“Shoot ‘Em Ups” were next on the list to knock out during the teacher camp. I played a little Galaga, a little Asteroids… the classics. Then I had to venture off and locate a game that I thought would be something fun and that could be used in my classroom. So I found one that was fun… used in the classroom? Well… I’d use it in the classroom, but since I teach middle school, I doubt some parents would be as eager as me!
The game I found was Zombie Trailer Park. Awesome game. And really, not particularly gory, but when it comes to little men beating the undead to… uh… death?… with a shovel, or a combine mowing down the hordes in its path, I could see where there would be some objections. It’s times like this that high school looks really appealing!
Anyway, as with the rest of these games, I’m having to re-educate myself continuously to understand how games can be an integral part of my Language Arts curriculum. As I’ve read from James Gee, or heard on podcasts I listen to such as EdGamer, the game itself is really just a vehicle for the skills and practices we want children to be able to master. And where else are they more motivated to learn mastery of a skill than in a game? So Zombie Trailer Park is not a complicated game. You start with Shovel Men, then when you’ve built up enough cash, trailers, farm houses, garages, etc., you unlock the ability to build farmers with shotguns, guys toting wagons full of flaming moonshine, as well as a pickup truck full of good ol’ boys with high-powered machine guns mounted to the truck bed. The zombies start to throw some curve balls as well, adding “frogs” (they leap), “Big Honkin’ Zombies” (the big unstoppable guys), and “screamers” (they… well… they scream) to the original sauntering horde of walkers. (These are all my names, by the way. If the game offers specific names for the different types of zombies, I didn’t see it posted anywhere.) As the levels progressed (there are 4), I found myself learning through each failure how to come back at those stupid zombies the next time and change up which type of building or player I built when, and even the timing of when and how many to build. At one point, I consciously thought to myself how much I was strategizing through each wave and each level.
Wait, go back a second. Did I just say “I found myself learning through each failure how to come back…” Huh. Imagine that.
From Zombie Trailer Park, I had to continue the zombie theme when it was time to tackle the “Strategy” genre. I chose to play Rebuild, which is a kind of Sim City/Civilization meets zombie apocalypse game. Not sure why this hasn’t been done before. Who knows… with my limited knowledge of modern gaming, I’m sure it has… Anyway, I started in on Rebuild and found it to be a fun little strategy game. The premise is that you have a band of survivors who have fenced off their own little section of the city. You have a leader, some soldiers, some scavengers, a scientist, some builders, and a small group of citizens who can be taught to take on one of the other player types if you choose to train them to. The game begins by scouting out the surrounding area, working to clear strategic areas from the zombie menace, then moving in to reclaim that area and add it to your base camp. Throughout the game, you have to keep track of how happy your people are, how much you have in the cupboard (before they all starve), and you have to keep a few people back to guard the settlement from those pesky brain-eating hordes.
I was required to play the game for just a few minutes and found myself still trying to expand my base and train my citizens about 2 1/2 hours later! There were a lot of aspects of the game that reminded me of Civilization — which is probably one of my favorite games of all time. These games are clearly designed for learning. The player has to match up the danger level of the scouted area with the number and skill of the soldiers going in to “clear” it. If I choose to save a church over, say, a hospital… I will have to deal with the consequences of that choice. There is a clear link between strategy games and the kind of cause/effect or problem-solving skills I try to teach in the English/Language Arts classroom. Take away the zombies — by why would you want too?! — and I could use this to supplement teaching of The Giver, in which the characters make life and death decisions to maintain a “utopian” society.
Then I started playing a game I found called Battle Panic. Very addictive… stupid orcs. That’s all for tonight.