Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Teaching with Metaplace

If Metaplace is what I think it is and it turns out well, then I really want to help Areae advertise this one. It's the sort of thing that could help legitimize the game industry and accomplish a lot of good.

One way to help is to demonstrate the tool's diversity of possible applications. Educational games are a fine example. I can see a lot of potential in the general concept for designing games that are as educational and enlightening as they are fun.

So here I'm going to come up with an example. I'd really love to hear other persons' ideas for games which could educate kids; kids mainly, though educating adults is just as important (but harder). I might follow up with more educational game concepts later.

I went back after I'd described the game and added some section titles to make for an easier read, but I'm not going to reorganize and divide the sections properly.

The first thing that pops to mind is an anatomy game. The game's purpose is to teach people about skeletal structures.

Goal and rewards
The player's goal is to look at a 3-D model of an animal from all sides (by moving the camera) and point to (or trace, though I think pointing would be easier, both to implement and to play) where each individual bone lies under the animal's skin. Correct identifications are rewarded with points, while errors cost points.

The player can try the same level again for a better score or move on (if they achieve a minimal accuracy requirement). The player's points from various levels accumulate to acquire badges, which can then be shown off on the his or her homepage (Myspace, Facebook, whatever) or included in group leaderboards (the group might be a group of friends or it might be a class competition which a teacher sets up for the students).

For all ages and types
The intended audience ranges across all age groups, kindergarten to senior citizens. Consequently, the game should begin simply, becoming more difficult and dynamic as the player progresses.

Choose the levels and options you prefer
It might make sense to begin with human animals. So the first level might be identifying bone regions (torso, head, leg, arm, etc) or identifying the bones of specific areas (the hand bones, for example). Regardless, players would have the option of playing the full game or just the human levels.

Teachers could toggle an option which provides bone labels at the end of each level (tibia, fibia, etc). There might also be more depthful information, such as an explanation of the human skull's crenulations (the skull is actually many bones fused together).

Escalating and dynamic challenges
In the complete version of the game, each new level is a different animal. This is where parents and teachers can really have fun with their kids (or by themselves), since most people don't have much knowledge of zoology.

Can you identify all the bones of a red-tailed hawk? How about a squirrel? or a raccoon? All of those are North American animals. Players might have the option to sort animal-identification levels by region. Try Amazon animals one day and North African animals the next.

There would also be "trick" levels. Can you identify the bones of a sea sponge? Yes and no. Sponges don't have skeletons like ours, but they do have thousands of triangular bones called spicules. Those spicules actually have to be hammered out before the rock-hard sea sponge can be made into the sponge you use to clean in your kitchen or bathroom. Another trick animal might be the nautilus, which has only one shell but adds new layers to the shell as it grows. Another example is sharks; they have only cartilage, not bones.

Animated rewards
Unless Metaplace makes animation easy, I probably wouldn't be able to reward players with animal animations, like I'd want to. But as a substitute (one which can be toggled on/off), perhaps I can use a link to videos (like YouTube videos) of real animals in action. Identify all of the lion's bones correctly and you get to see a short video of a lion. Get the lemur completely right and you can watch a real lemur.

This sort of thing would encourage players to retry levels so they can correctly identify all bones, rather than settling for "close". A possible alternative to an animation or video would be sound clips, like hearing the lion roar or the lemur chatter.

Fun facts
I might even include non-skeletal facts about each animal in a little bubble at the end of each level, like "A lion's roar can be heard a mile away" or "Some orcas (killer whales) have been known to massage their bellies on rocks."

Laugh it up
In any educational game, humor is a great way to immediately impress upon the learner that the game is meant to be fun. I'd squeeze in as many bad puns, funny facts, and other jokes as I could.

If I was really feeling ambitious (or had some awesome help), I'd allow the player to tickle each animal for a funny visual and audial reaction. Ever seen a bear laugh? If I can make a dog squirm, I'm sure their cousins (bears) are ticklish, too.

As you can probably tell, I enjoy teaching. I also love animals and know a lot about tons of them. So I'll probably make at least a couple educational games with Metaplace, if it turns out well.


  1. Great ideas here Aaron =) Keep them coming! I would definitely play an anatomy game, and I could have used them in my college Physiology class for sure.

  2. I think that this will definitely be used for educational purposes. You example game here would be a great one, and I'm sure many more could be developed along similar lines.


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