This was the challenge given to over thirty fifth graders during this year's Mobile Quest Summer Camp. Now in its second iteration, Mobile Quest took place at Parsons The New School of Design over five days in July as a partnership between the Institute of Play and the New Learning Institute (NLI). During the program, campers from across New York City collaborated in teams to create digital and non-digital games that were played by friends and family at a culminating Games Festival.
“This year the Institute of Play focused specifically on teaching game concepts that would enable kids to engage with one another and with the world, “ Leah Gilliam, director of the camp, explains. “These design concepts were game space (the area of play) and core mechanics (the player's actions), and their exploration lead us to make games with smartphones that were both non-digital (board games) and digital (7scenes).”
Learning to Design
While playing and making games might not sound like work, it takes critical thinking, creative collaboration, and persistence to make a game that's both challenging and fun to play. The Mobile Quest participants spent the first part of their week breaking down the basics of game design and smartphone technology. Each team of campers was mentored by educators and professional game designers from NLI, Parsons, and the Institute of Play. Once campers had been introduced to the basic components of games, which include the objective, the rules, the core mechanics, and the game space, they were asked to “mod” an existing game. “Modding” a game is when you change one or more of its basic components. This process helped the campers understand how the relationship between components could be changed in a game to create different play experiences.
In addition to basic game design, Mobile Quest asked campers to think critically about how smartphones are part of many systems, including text messages, phone calls, GPS navigation, and of course, games. Even though young people play games on their phones, they are often not aware that they can also make games with their phones. The campers were introduced to an application called 7scenes on the Nokia N95 phones that allowed them to design mobile, location-based games. They became familiar with the application by playing Picnic at Quicnic, a 7scenes game that was created for the camp. Groups of campers walked around the planet Quicnic (in real life, the park) receiving GPS-tagged alerts via their Nokia phones that asked them to complete physical and mental challenges in order to make it to the final goal — a picnic in the park!
After learning the basics of game design and smartphone technology, it was then time for campers to design their own games. Creativity and collaboration were key skills required in making the games they would be presenting at the Games Festival. The campers were told to work within the game space of the nearby park, but all other game components were up to them to design. Working mostly with 7scenes as a platform, teams collaborated on writing engaging narratives that were built around challenging mini-games and led to a final goal. In order to create the larger story of the game, campers had to brainstorm character roles and fictional settings, write descriptions that clearly explained the game rules and challenges, and find or create images that illustrated the narrative.
Designing the games for the Festival was an iterative process. campers persisted through a cycle of designing, play testing, and re-designing their games. After a initial round of design, all the groups took their games to the park to “playtest” in order to figure out where they still had gaps or bugs in their games. They then headed back to Parsons where they problem solved in their groups to fix any issues before the final day.
Ready, Set, Learn!
Parents, siblings, and friends gathered with the campers and mentors on the last day of Mobile Quest in the park to play all of the games that had been designed and developed over the week. With the camper designers and Nokia N95's as their guides, players advanced through the games by completing challenges that required them to run around in circles, do jump rope relays, and be chased by zombies. Players used both their brains and their bodies to reach the final goals of the camper-created games.
Seven of the games played in the park were made by campers with the 7scenes application, which Gilliam believed made a big impact on their learning. “The location-based mobile authoring platform 7scenes transformed the camp: kids were active, building games for physical and virtual spaces and suddenly needed to know how information systems worked! “
Over five days at Mobile Quest, campers came together to play, mod, and design games. They left with the ability to break a game down into its basic components and think about how they might have designed it differently. campers were also able to see the mobile phones in their pockets a little differently. What was once a device they used mostly to call home or text friends, now gained a new function — designing games!