Category Archives: gaming

Ready… Aim… and a Little Strategy Too.

“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.

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What’s Your Platform?

Continuing with the 3D GameLab teacher camp, I’ve been looking at more styles of games and how they would best fit in my classroom.  I already introduced a couple of my classes to the text-based games like Zork — and more of them enjoyed it than I thought!  I originally gave them some time during class to play from a list of pre-selected games.  The only requirement, I said, was that they had to dedicate the first ten minutes of class to playing Zork.  When I told them their ten minutes was up, nearly 80% of them kept playing!  Awesome response!  I’m definitely thinking of taking this to the next level and having one of my other classes use this in conjunction with some reading, writing, and problem-solving activities.  I’ve been thinking of requiring them to create a map and develop a walk-through guide based on their playing experience.

Today I had the chance to play some online platform games — flash-based versions of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog.  While I enjoyed dusting off some old favorites, I didn’t see much of an application to the classroom for these two games.  However, as part of the quest submission, I had to find an example of a platform game on my own and share it.  The game I found — and could definitely see using in class — was called Invertion.


This platform definitely had more problem-solving skills involved than simply jumping on a Koopa Troopa’s head.  There were levels where you had to split yourself in half and control both sides — with the understanding that your other half would be controlled using the same commands, only backwards.  Take that a step further when you’ve got players moving forward, backward, and upside-down on the ceiling!  I really enjoyed this game and saw how this could offer a challenge to my students beyond what I saw as being readily evident in Sonic and Mario.  Don’t get me wrong — I love those games!  I just don’t see them as passing the “would I be able to vigorously defend the use of these games in my curriculum?” test.

I like the way these games foster creative thinking and problem solving — I found myself thinking through all of the possible solutions to each level as I played through Invertion.  As I relate these games back to the learning going on in my classroom, I can see comparing the type of problem-solving that happens here with the way a character in a novel works through their own internal and external conflicts.

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On Your Mark, Get Set… Not So Sure.

As part of my 3D GameLab teacher camp, I’ve had the opportunity to run through a set of games through one of the Gaming quest chains.  I’ve played Narrative Games, Fighting Games, Graphic/Text Games… and now I’ve reached Driving Games.

While I enjoy a driving game as much as the next person, I have played them for a while and I’m not sure what the educational value is.  I could see using the game as a starting point for writing a narrative in class related to the “story” of the game.  I could also see using this as a springboard for having students write a how-to on “How to play this driving game.”  Even those uses seem a bit of a stretch, though, compared with the obvious usefulness of the Narrative Games.

Maybe I just need to go play it some more.  Oh well… 🙂

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Action-Adventure Games: Legend of Zelda

When I saw that one of the requirements for a quest in my 3D GameLab camp was to play an online version of Zelda, I started humming the music in my head.  I loved that game as a kid! Compared with some of the other games we’ve been exposed to — or reminded of — in 3DGL, I think Zelda would be a good game option for students who struggle with reading.  I picture a hierarchy of games for students based on their literacy of skills that starts with something like “Zelda,” progresses to “Peasant’s Quest,” and culminates in having the advanced students try their hand at “Zork.”

As “Zelda” is less text-based than the others, I could see using that with ESL students as a way of having them follow the story without having to rely completely on text.  Much like the others, it also requires some problem-solving and a need to follow along with the story to understand why Link is on this quest.  Students would have the opportunity to write about the journey and steps necessary to complete his quest, as well as make predictions regarding the story — or even go beyond the game and write their own sequel (even though there have been a multitude of them by now).

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MMORPGs and ARGs: Building Community

I don’t play MMORPGs.  With everything else going on, they just seem to suck up a lot of time that I could be spending with family, perfecting curriculum for my class, etc.  I see the merit in them and I understand why people do play them… they’re just not for me.  It seems like these types of games are created for the purpose of building a community of players and giving them a common purpose and goals.

I love the idea of the ARGs.  I have always loved a good mystery or puzzle, and this seems to take it to the next level.  I’m the one always looking for “easter eggs” in a movie, or finding the hidden content in the DVD extra features menu… this type of game is made for someone like me.  Granted, I can’t see myself getting in my car and driving to a GPS location to answer a payphone (like they did with the “I Love Bees” viral campaign), but I love the idea of this type of game and how it brings people together from the same region, while connecting them with other “players” across the world!

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Game On!


For the Spring Teacher Camp I’m attending through 3D GameLab, I was reintroduced to one of my old favorite computer games from when I was a kid — “Zork!”  Thinking about the kind of games I play now (mostly Words With Friends, Angry Birds, etc.), it was fun to think about the early days of these computer games when Zork was really all we had!  Until I started playing it again, I had forgotten how much fun it was to explore and wonder what was around the next corner, or what objects I could grab to help me get through that stupid forest.  If I never see another grue again, it will be too soon!

I also had the opportunity to play “Peasant’s Quest,” created by the guys responsible for Homestar Runner — moving on into the college favorites with the Strong Bad Emails.  It’s a game that pokes fun at the early graphic/text adventure games.  (I admit, I never remember needing to “deploy baby” and “take meatball sub” as one of the commands in Zork.)  Even though the requirement for the class was to play for a minimum of 20 minutes, I played through the entire game.

I could definitely see using something like “Peasant’s Quest” and “Zork” in my Language Arts classes.  By virtue of being text-based games and having a story with choices that need to be made by the player to advance that story, this would blend perfectly into lessons and units that I have taught before related to reading strategies and problem solving.  While I would definitely offer some help to the students — there are times where the game-play could be overly frustrating for a modern gamer, I feel — this would be a fun and valuable way to have the students struggle through a problem until they find a solution.


I’m certainly looking forward to whatever games 3D GameLab has for me next.  I never played World of Warcraft, but thanks to this Teacher Camp, I’ve downloaded and started getting into the free starter version.  I can see how that would be used as part of the Language Arts curriculum too, which I know is already being done through the “WoW in School” project by Lucas Gillispie.

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