Design A Video Game, Win A Writing Contest

The recent National Writing Project (NWP) Annual Meeting featured a series of presentations and workshops about video games.  Not video games as sources of distraction, promoters of obesity, or providers of instant gratification.  These sessions focused on video games and writing.

Turns out, there’s more of a connection between video games and literacy than most teachers realize.  And now, several educators and non-profit organizations are exploring the inclusion of video games as a new and valid genre for students to study and compose.  The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards  now include a video game design category in the annual contest for students in grades 7-12.  Added last year, the newest of the 29 categories recognizes the creative and narrative elements involved with video gaming.  And of course, it taps into the 21stcentury literacies and relevancy at the same time.  The contest deadline is January 29, 2011, so there’s still time for students to get involved.

In one NWP session, Alan Gershenfeld, founder and president of E-Line Media, emphasized this connection through narrative structure and theme.  Gershenfeld, who is also the former Chairman of Games for Change, demonstrated several games that encourage students to make positive social change in the world.  These are not typical “educational software” that floods the market with low-end graphic design and barely disguised multiple choice questions.  These games use high quality design, role playing, and complex story lines to immerse the students in new situations and enable the development of empathy.

Video games share narrative elements with other fiction genres.   Plot development moves the game forward through different challenges; characters are created (often interactively) with different strengths and grow throughout the game.  Settings are well developed, often creating whole new worlds for the characters to explore.  And the games that Gernshenfeld featured focused on serious, thought-provoking themes.  Some, like The Sims or Civilization series, have been popular for quite a while.  Others, like PeaceMaker, which focuses on Israeli-Palestinian relationships, and ClimateChallenge, which addresses environmental issues, are less main-stream but are becoming more commonly available to educators.

Focus on video gaming as narrative?  As further evidence that video games aren’t all about the flash, students don’t have to have advanced software or programming skills.  They don’t even need access to a computer.  Students can complete the application and make their pitch for their original game on paper. Imagine that.

Integrating technology into the classroom must go beyond using the tools that others have developed; real integration will come from understanding the new genres of our world and incorporating them into our curriculum.

Creating a Better World Through Literacy

There are so many wonderful organizations devoted to improving the state of literacy around the world.  In recognition of literacy week, we would like to recognize just a few of these important groups.  One group, in particular, Better World Books, is working hard to end illiteracy.  In their own words:

Better World Books collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide.  With more than six million new and used titles in stock, we’re a self-sustaining, triple bottom-line company that creates social, economic, and environmental value for all our stakeholders.

We were founded in 2002 by three friends from the University of Notre Dame who started selling textbooks online to earn some money, and ended up forming a pioneering social enterprise — a business with a mission to promote literacy.

Better World Books offers to buy back textbooks or to donate them to a number of literacy initiatives across the globe, including Room to Read, Books for Africa, Worldfund, the National Center for Family Literacy, Invisible Children, and Open Books.  Here at MetaMetrics, we have donated a number of textbooks to these groups and are happy to help contribute to the important work of these social entrepreneurs. 

If you have extra textbooks available, we encourage you to consider donating.  With over 700 million of the world’s citizens lacking basic literacy skills, it’s good to see so many organizations dedicated to making an impact.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.