I had a ton of fun talking to folks about my research on RPG Maker at the Games Learning and Society Conference last month. I am a big fan of the opportunity for conversation that poster sessions provide. I expected most people that visited my poster would be unfamiliar with RPG Maker and the community. That was true for about half of them. The other half consisted of people that had been using the software themselves and educators that had used the software for teaching computer programing or game design.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask one of these educators, Caleb Gentry, some questions about teaching with the software. Caleb teaches some very cool courses on digital media and programing at Sequim Middle School in Washington. His reflections on teaching with the software offer some interesting points of comparison and consideration for thinking about working with the software in a completely informal learning space.
Where did you first find out about RPG Maker? What were your first impressions of the software and what made you think it could be a teaching tool?
I was already teaching game design to middle school students and a few of them wanted to make RPG style games and the product we were using (Multimedia Fusion 2) to make our games wasn’t very efficient for this task. I began to look online for new software solutions and I came across the RPG Maker series. There are quite a few versions that I evaluated and some lacked essential features that I needed such as network folder support.
How did you first use the software in a classroom? What were your learning objectives? What kind of curricula did you develop around it?
After I tested RPG Maker VX myself I installed it for a single team of students in order to test how the students would react. They picked up on how the software worked quickly and easily and so I allowed them to continue to use it for their team game design unit. I now have a simple RPG unit in the game design class that is required. This summer I began testing Gamestar Mechanic and I think it fits well as a unit following the Gamestar Mechanic training. Moving middle school students of various levels of proficiency through the game design process can be challenging but I think there are great off the shelf products at this point that make it a legitimate choice as an elective class or as a unit in a core class. You can check out TexasGames.net for more reviews of software.
How did/does it work in a classroom? What kind of reflections do you have on using RPG Maker to teach and how would you compare and contrast it to other tools?
The product is a great fit for my needs. It is easy enough to use quickly yet complicated and flexible enough to keep the students engaged for months. In caparison to other tools we use I would say the basic programming is a bit easier, it really works for students who want to tell a story through their game. Girls usually excel with RPG Maker…probably because they tend to not care as much about shooter games.
At the poster session I was able to tell you a bit about my research on the RPG Maker VX community. Using the application in a classroom is clearly very different from this community, but I am curious to know what kind of similarities and differences you saw between students learning to make games with the application in your classroom and the individuals from the web community we discussed?
Just like an online community a learning community within a classroom has individuals that step up and lead the way. There are usually a handful of students who “get it” and assist others with figuring out the complexities of the software tools and process of game design and development. I think that it’s easier for most students to share face to face…mostly because posting to online communities requires more effort. The biggest difference is in the fact that in my classroom all the students are one age and in the online communities people of all ages can contribute. There are risks involved of course when people of many ages coexist in virtual space but I think it’s important for students to realize that they can become an expert in something at a young age and contribute to a larger community.
If there was one piece of advice you would give to someone that wanted to use a game making application, like RPG Maker, to in their classroom what would it be?
I think it would be to try and not worry about not being an expert of the software to begin with. Eventually you will need to be at least competent with it but at first you can figure it out together with the students. Obviously if an online community exists for help it’s a big plus so it should be a variable that you should consider when choosing game design software. I was extremely fortunate to have support early on in my teaching career from other teachers in the TexasGames.net community who made it possible to not only learn how to use the software but it figure out the best approach to teaching such a dynamic subject. I’ve tried as much as possible to give back to that community.