Learning Through Game Design: A Review of Current Software and Research

Elisabeth Hayes, Alex Games

This presentation will provide an overview and comparison of existing computer software intended to allow young people to create their own computer games. The growing interest on the part of educators as well as for-profit companies in capitalizing on young people’s interest in such games has led to the production and promotion of a myriad of software packages intended to simplify the game-making process and to introduce game design into school curricula as early as elementary education. The focus of this review is not on software intended to train professional game designers, but rather on products with more general applications, for example in introductory computer courses for middle school students, or even in elementary classrooms as a means of achieving more general curricular goals (i.e., engaging students in thinking about systems or fostering their creativity with computer applications). We will briefly describe the most popular of such programs and compare their key features, including the kinds of games that can be created with the software, the types of communities and resources that are associated with each program, claims made for learning outcomes resulting from use of the software, and the results of empirical research (if any) on the actual application and outcomes of the software in formal or informal educational settings. A key finding of our review is that, almost uniformly, existing software has the goal of teaching users about computer programming, and places little or no emphasis on teaching concepts related to game design. Furthermore, empirical evidence supporting the purported learning outcomes of such software is quite limited. Implications for educational practice and research on game design software will be discussed, with examples from the presenters’ current research on children’s conceptions of game design.

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