Game Design and the Utility of Novelty
Last week, I had this kind of “regex moment” at school. A decade of play where I absorbed design principles of Euro board game suddenly seemed like preparation for this school challenge.
This seems like another data point supporting Brightworks’ “Everything is interesting” motto. In a world of infinite fascination, almost any substantive collection of deep and diverse literacies will yield novel solutions. The deeper someone’s knowledge base, the more T-Shaped the student, the more surprising connections between the different domains of expertise.
Swinging in on the bungee cord doesn’t actually guarantee that you’ll get the regex right on the first try. Since that first conversation, I’ve been wrestling with some specific game design challenges with the project. But now problems are well-defined within one domain, with clear linkages to the goals for the game and constraints from using it in our advisory program.
The basics include a “focus” meter that depletes with completing tasks. Social and “human” tasks, including food and rest, refill that meter. Completing some school tasks on time can build bonuses for “fixed” school tasks, like science labs or math tests. Skipping tasks, like math HW or history reading, creates penalties for those later assessments that can be cleared by spending time units in Extra Help.
For ease of use, I’m leaning towards coin toss resolution of tasks. For example, a hard test might involve flipping 3 heads. A rested student has a “pool” of 5 coins, plus a bonus +H from completed HW. That’s a manageable curve. A non-rested student might only have a pool of 3 coins, and if they’ve skipped the math HW during the week then the test may well be “impossible.”
My goal was a Euro-style $ vs VP split between focus and task completion. Without that, the “game” is simply a pedantic moral lesson. “Occupy every spare minute with HW until it’s all done.” If we can balance the split, then the game will offer a reasonable simulation of real student challenges. Do I stay up till 2 to finish the history reading? Do I try to do math HW while riding the bus home from my game at 9pm? At what point does relaxing with friends become a rational choice?
The game started as a way to show students how to make good time management decisions. As the prototype takes form, it seems like the lesson for teachers about how quickly “just” 30 of HW minutes per class becomes overwhelming.