Next week, my nascent group of Burlington-area ARIS developers will be meeting to begin work on the construction of “DCF Book Run”, a game in which players will complete up to thirty mini-challenges to demonstrate that they’ve read the thirty books on this year’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher (DCF) Award list. The game will make its very public debut at the DCF Awards on May 3rd, where we’ll open it up to Vermont’s librarians.
The basic game-play mechanism will be relatively simple: players will wander the awards campus location looking for QR codes accompanied by the cover of each DCF book. When the QR code is scanned from within ARIS, the game will present the player with a challenge related to the content of the book. Players can level up in the game based on the number of correct answers they provide. So the goals are iterative: solve a mini-puzzle based on each book, and solve enough mini-puzzles to advance through the levels (Bookworm > Reading Rockstar > Head Librarian) until all 30 books are completed.
While the game will debut at a conference for librarians, the target game-playing audience are middle schoolers, in grades 6-8, and those are the standards we’ll be targeting. One of the intended outcomes of the game is for the librarians to deploy this game at their own schools and encourage students in grades 6 through 12 to play and to get interested in creating on the ARIS platform; ARIS would be difficult to learn to build in for the majority of students younger than 6th graders, but older students should be able to extrapolate what their own age-appropriate games could look like.
In-game challenges will take several forms:
- multiple-choice questions
- single answer questions
- a game of hangman to uncover a word specifically pertaining to the book
- being asked to record a media response and pin it to the in-game Map
Another intended outcome of this game is that it correspond to the qualities I outlined in constructing my own games rubric, as explained below.
1. Design Quality
This will probably be the hardest aspect to execute well, so I’m going to depend heavily on the Organization and Design section of this rubric, namely that “There are multiple graphic elements and variation in layout” (challenge objects will be presented in a combination of images, text, close-captioned audio and video) and “Design elements assist students in understanding concepts and ideas” (by including the covers of the books both with the QR codes and attached to each reward for solving a challenge).
As soon as a player has answered a challenge correctly or appropriately, a virtual book object will be added to their Inventory. ARIS provides a mechanism at the editor level to customize an error message for each challenge. As I do recognize the limitations of providing only one unchanging error message, we will also be implementing:
3. A Hinting System
A character the player can ask for hints on how to solve each challenge. The character we’ve chosen is the ghost of Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and the question process will look like this screen from Mentira:
Players will be able to locate the hinting ghost from any area of the game and at any time, via the Nearby tab. This still from The EpiQRious Caterpillar demonstrates a similar concept; players could re-read How To Play at any time and in any game location via Nearby.
4. Collaborative Accessibility (A Social Aspect)
Players will have the ability to leave other players or the game designers themselves feedback by submitting a text, audio or video Note. Notes are pinned to the in-game Map, and you can read and comment on other players’ Notes. Contributing n Notes will be a requirement of the DCF game, and commenting other players’ Notes will earn the commenter badges they can display on their in-game profile.
5. Ties to Common Core
The content we use to draft the questions and challenges will come from multiple curriculum areas and all tie back to one or more Common Core standard for grades 6-8. For instance, one of the books on this year’s list is Joan Bauer’s Close to Famous. It’s a book about cooking, so we could build some math questions based on a presented recipe.
Another book on the list is The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, by Wendy Wan-Long Shang, about how a Chinese-American middle schooler tries to relate to the experiences of her elderly Chinese great-aunt, including how their family was affected by the Cultural Revolution. Details about the Cultural Revolution are included in the book, and can form the basis for questions that meet this criteria.
The inclusion of hangman as an activity meets this criteria.
The driving idea behind the game, that of students demonstrating that they’ve read and understood books appropriate for their grade range, meets this criteria.
This is the hardest aspect for a developer to accurately assess. In fact I would argue that it’s impossible for a developer to determine how enjoyable their game is. And that’s why we’re aiming to have a prototype of the game ready to be tested by classes of middle schoolers whose teachers are interested enough in examining ARIS in the classroom to let us invade. We’ll ask the students to play our game and provide a supportive space for them to give us their vocal feedback as well as encouraging those less comfortable with public feedback to leave us a Note on the in-game Map.
Moving forward, one of the ways we’ll be gauging the effectiveness of our game is by invading more middle school classrooms and having some portion of the students play the game, and another portion of the students simply answer the questions about the books via the traditional seated pen-and-paper method, and a third portion of students answer the questions via an online but seated interface. However, one method of effectiveness that we’re extremely interested in gauging is:
It’s important for us to model ARIS’ open source nature so that students who are interested in building their own games understand that ARIS was created for that reason, and that there’s an active and student-friendly group of developers in Vermont who can’t wait to hand the reins over to the next generation of gamers.