Game Creation as a Learning Exercise
An underutilized aspect of game-based learning lies in game design and construction. Traditional educational games require not just memorization of knowledge, but also the ability to apply that knowledge to a situation. There is no reason why we as educators cannot take this to the next step and push students towards creation to demonstrate true mastery of a topic. Creating a game requires knowing the topic, being able to evaluate what information is critical and what can be simplified, and then adapting that information into a simplified model to be played. Not only does it necessitate research, it necessitates judgement based on knowing how small parts contribute to the larger topic at hand.
Children interested in using game design to demonstrate knowledge should start by making a “mod” for an existing game whose mechanics they know well. For example, players looking to make monopoly a bit more math heavy might introduce the concept of increasing property values: each house increases the value and rent of adjacent properties by five percent. Now, houses that are near hotels are worth more than isolated pockets. It adds another level of strategy to the game and makes the game utilize percents as a math learning objective.
After making a small mod, players should experiment with larger expansions. In the example above, players could create their own buildings with different effects. Maybe a “park” increases property values around at the cost of never charging rent for that particular tile. The designer is taking a real world effect, analyzing and simplifying it, and fitting it into the world of the game. The hope is that it encourages designers to research these topics independently to be inspired for new mechanics and items and to get a feel for appropriate numbers (does a park double property values or just increase them marginally?).