New Blog: Lost Garden

I found a new blog today, called Lost Garden.  There’s not a lot of recent postings, but I found it by chance through this link to an entry to a slideshow about designing “Princess-rescuing applications.

Otherwise called games.

One of the points that he makes is that computer games usually start players with a small number of basic skills.  You have to master those basic skills in order to go on to the next part of the game.  There’s a reward for success — moving to the next level — and there’s a negative consequence for failure… character death or being stuck on the current level.  Games are designed to provide gradual bump-ups in ability.  The starting screen of World of Warcraft is relatively simple; as the player develops skills, the screen becomes more complex until it resembles the cockpit of a jet fighter.

In a recent post, Shelly Blake-Plock reminded me that I need to consciously teach essay style, if I want students to be successful at that task.  I do want them to be successful at that task, and I have taught it; but really I have to present it differently, as a skill to be mastered in order to play the game of school.

What skills need to be cultivated to be a successful academic essay writer?  Well, one needs to be a good speller, and a good sentence writer.  One needs to know how to put core data like dates and names and specialized vocabulary into those sentences.  One needs to have a sense of what lens one is writing through.  One needs to have a sense of what one’s aim is or what story one is telling…

How to teach these things through a game-like structure?  It’s worth considering.

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  1. Consider a WoW -like MMO where as part of the turn-in process for any quest, you have to write a sentence or two about some aspect of what you just did.

    So F’nordallon wants a description of the mountains near Ironforge, one of the gather quests asks you to describe how to reach the target zone from the NPS’s current position, or an orphaned child wants a description of how their valiant parent died. As characters level, the writing requirements grow as well. By the time you’ve hit 60 most major quest lines are requiring some focused and specialized paragraphs. The Battlefied (PvP) unlock questlines involve writing propaganda pieces for your faction. Ok, I’m stopping this before I miss toddler nap-time. It’s really endless.

    The problem, of course, is that evaluating the writing needs human eyes, and reasonably attentive eyes at that. While I’d love to see a game built around this, so that part of the requirements once you’re at level cap (and thus have demonstrated your own writing skills) is to evaluate and approve the writing submitted by the new players. Only after approval would the new player get the full XP reward.

    Barring this, you could try to set up a system for this within a guild. There’s no way to reward via XP, but you could easily do gold or mats, and certainly tie the player’s writing to their guild advancement.

    OK, naptime now. Then I go back and see if there’s any ed groups trying to do something similar to this on WoWinSchools.

  2. Though this game might not be the precise form you’re looking for (or targeted at the age group you teach), UT-Austin’s Digital Writing and Research Lab has created a writing skills-oriented game called “Rhetorical Peaks.”

    I’ve played around with it a bit, and it seems like a potentially fun and engaging approach to what can potentially be pretty dry subject matter. I met a few of the developers at a conference last summer and they’re really interesting people focused on the same questions you bring up here — how to engage students in becoming better writers and thinkers through alternative forms of media and games.

    Here’s a link to the game:

    I’ll be interested in hearing what you think about it.

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