Playing for Keeps - Session 2

The students of the second Playing for Keeps session walked in and sat down quietly. Most of them did not know each other, but all it took was one question - "So, what games do you all play?" - for them to break out into animated chatter.


After the great success of the first Playing for Keeps session, we were excited to welcome the students of the second session - and they did not disappoint. The students came in with new ideas, genuine curiosity, and infectious enthusiasm. Using MIT's game design platform Scratch, the students were able to create some truly creative and entertaining games based on important issues that affect us today. 


Hard at work on their games!


Of course, to design a game, we had to start at the basics. Like Session 1, we began by challenging the students to creating a representation of a movie out of Legos pieces. This activity helped them start thinking creatively about the characters, story, space, and how to deal with limited resources (in this case, Legos pieces and time). They were able to create some amazing things with just Legos pieces - including a surprisingly realistic clownfish from Finding Nemo, and a whole scene from Monsters, Inc., complete with multiple characters. 


Hacking Rock-Paper-Scissors was the next activity, designed to help the students identify the core elements of any game. They had a lot of fun thinking of different spins to put on such a classic game - there was even mention of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock!


Now, with the basics covered, we moved on to the real deal: Scratch. The students flew through the introduction, taking to Scratch like ducks to water. They not only grasped the basics, but also began learning some of the more advanced Scratch features like sound and video recognition.


Abraham, Gladysmar and Leonard learning new Scratch features with help from Scott.


Day 2 began with a "Found Objects" game design challenge, where the students used a set of objects to create a playable multiplayer game. One group created an "Angry Starburst" game, where a rubber-band was used to fire a Starburst into a hostile triceratops. Another group created a complex sleight of hand game involving a twelve sided die, three cups, some dinosaur figurines, and a sophisticated point system.


The students were in for a treat - a speaker from Iridescent, an independent game studio that creates arcade games came to speak to them about one of their projects - Fluid Ether. Fluid Ether is an educational game that teaches students about things like fluids, liquids, gases, and densities. It features a level editor, which turned out to be a lot of fun!


The Iridescent game Fluid Ether.


After Iridescent, Scott, our summer NSLA teaching fellow, taught the students about the United States population density and how it affects environmental issues such as pollution and wildlife habitats. This lesson was to serve as a starting point for the students' games.


We separated the students into three groups, and each of them began working on a game that focuses on an environmental issue. Gordon and Henry's game, Revenge of the Forest, is about some animals who get rid of evil humans in the forest, including a chainsaw-wielding logger and a lumberjack. Their game featured epic battles between woodland animals (a flying squirrel, a moose, and a bear) and the humans.


Select an animal!


Ben, Chris, and Irfan created a game devoted to raising awareness for global warming, and their game featured a creative first-person experience that none of our other students have attempted. Gladysmar and Abraham created a game about littering and deforesting, hand-making some gorgeous backgrounds and sprites along with a funny story.


A closer look inside Gladysmar and Abraham's game.


Irfan presenting his group's game to their fellow game designers.


The next two days were spent doing nothing but perfecting their games on Scratch, from remixing other games to learn new features, to painstakingly making sure each sprite looks perfect. Most of the students did not know each other coming into this program, and they all left with new friendships and a valuable shared experience in game design - and some great, awesome games on Scratch to remember them by.


From left: Sara, Scott, Chris, Ben, Irfan, Leonard, Abraham, Gladysmar, Gordon, Juan, Henry