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The role of interest-driven participatory game design: considering design literacy within a technology classroom

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Adolescents develop skills and ideas from their interest-driven practices, which shape a type of literacy that may differ from the traditional ideas of literacy. This paper takes a qualitative approach to identify adolescents’ activities through interest-driven participatory design. We interacted with grade 9 students at a Western Canadian school who were designing games in a Career and Technology Studies classroom. We collected data through weekly observations, group presentations, written individual reflections on their own designs, oral and written group peer feedback, and final interviews with group members. Based on literature review and our observations, we drew on a framework focusing on adolescents’ participation in exploring, developing, and creating designs based on their own interest. We advocate for adopting interest-driven participatory game design in technology classroom, to engage learners more in learning and developing necessary skills to thrive in their lives.
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This full-text is an uncorrected manuscript of
Baradaran Rahimi, F., & Kim, B. (2019). The role of interest-driven participatory game design:
considering design literacy within a technology classroom. International Journal of Technology and
Design Education, 29(2), 387404. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10798-018-9451-6
Please contact the authors for the published copy of the article.
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The Role of Interest-Driven Participatory Game Design:
Considering Design Literacy within a Technology Classroom
Farzan Baradaran Rahimi & Beaumie Kim
University of Calgary
Abstract Adolescents develop skills and ideas from their interest-driven practices, which
shape a type of literacy that may differ from the traditional ideas of literacy. This paper takes
a qualitative approach to identify adolescents’ activities through interest-driven participatory
design. We interacted with grade 9 students at a Western Canadian school who were designing
games in a Career and Technology Studies classroom. We collected data through weekly
observations, group presentations, written individual reflections on their own designs, oral and
written group peer feedback, and final interviews with group members. Based on literature
review and our observations, we drew on a framework focusing on adolescents’ participation
in exploring, developing, and creating designs based on their own interest. We advocate for
adopting interest-driven participatory game design in technology classroom, to engage
learners more in learning and developing necessary skills to thrive in their lives.
Keywords: Interest-driven practices; Participatory design; Technology education; Game design.
1. Introduction
Decades ago, Nehru described life as analogous toa game of cards. The hand that is dealt you is determinism; the
way you play it is free will(as cited in Cortes, 1991, p.8). His description of life as a game conveys ideas about
literacy different from the traditional notion of reading and writing. Zimmerman (2009) defines similar ideas and
practices as part of being literate in our society, which he called, gaming literacy. It refers to how a person makes
decisions by envisioning possibilities with personal choices (Zimmerman, 2009), which we learn from early
childhood. Despite of the high number of publications that concentrate on learning with games, there is a lack of
understanding how students’ experiences influence different learning trajectories and develop gaming literacy.
Moreover, it is challenging to design a game-based curriculum that is interesting enough for students to deeply engage
in learning (Kiili, 2005; Virvou, Katsionis, & Manos, 2005). Researchers have suggested ways of supporting learning
through game-based activities (Richard & Kafai, 2015) and advocated for the learners designing their own games.
Researchers also identified challenges of learners’ adopting sound pedagogical principles when creating educational
games (Kafai, 2006). We conquer that learners should have more opportunities to work together and develop their
own ways of creating artifacts of their own interest (Tan & Kim, 2015). This can help learners to better engage in
creating and understanding knowledge (Ricci, 1994).
Considering the meaning of literacy as the ability to understand and create specific kinds of meanings(Zimmerman,
2009, p.157), gaming literacy is about understanding and creating systems, play, and design of a game, regardless of
what a game refers to. Being systems, play, and design literate supports a player to understand how systems operate
or transform into different systems (Walsh, 2010; Galloway, 2006). Based on more traditional ideas on literacy, the
process of producing a game echoes writingwhile playing reminds reading. Both writing and producing a game
can be considered as a process of creating artifacts transformed from ideas. Reading and playing can be considered as
a process of interacting with the content. Drawing on the work of various researchers (Felicia & Pitt, 2006; Wijers,
Jonker, & Kerstens, 2008; Peppler, Warschauer, & Diazgranados, 2010; Kafai, Burke, & Mote, 2012; Kafai &
Vasudevan, 2015; Tan & Kim, 2015), we support the idea that designing games by students can considerably improve
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their subject-matter understanding as well as gaming literacy. Researchers and practitioners have been deeply involved
in developing instructional games that are focusing on content matters, graphical representations, and instructional
methods (Kafai, 2006). The greatest learning benefit, however, often remains not with players but with game
designers, and thus we support learners’ role as designers rather than consumers (Kafai, 2006).
Game design engages students in creating a set of rules that make the game meaningful. It also provides students with
opportunities to create their own sharable artifacts and “to construct new relationships with knowledge in the process”
(Kafai, 2006, p.36). The learner is involved in design decisions and begins to develop technological fluency (Kafai,
2006). Two studies by Tan & Kim (2015, p.181) on learning by doing, showed that when adolescents use digital
media, they “introduce their out-of-school literacy practices into their school literacy practices.” Building on Ito et al.
(2008), Tan and Kim (2015) argue for guiding young people’s participation in public life through these literacy
practices. This argument resonates with the affordances of gaming literacy in relation to real life and the ways young
generation applies it to solve a problem or achieve a goal. In this paper, we describe an effort to provide students with
opportunities to construct their own knowledge by designing games and developing literacy in new ways. Our purpose
was to study how game design experience influences learning trajectories that students pursue in a technology
classroom in Western Canada.
2. Interest-Driven Participatory (Game) Design by Adolescents
Some games can immerse players into unfamiliar contexts and topics by fulfilling players’ emotional and motivational
needs. These games are successful in providing appropriate challenge levels so that players experience the flow state
of mind where they lose complete sense of time (Csikzentmihalyi, 1990). On the other hand, it is extremely difficult
to develop such well-designed game environments where players can fully immerse and utilize their knowledge in
problem-solving (Fu, Su, & Yu, 2009). When educational media and digital learning environments put too much
emphasis on content delivery, it is difficult to motivate learners to enjoy learning (Felicia & Pitt, 2007). Thus, more
and more educators and researchers are taking constructionist approach as an alternative to develop educational media
and learning environments (e.g. Felicia & Pitt, 2007; Wijers, Jonker, & Kerstens, 2008; Richard & Kafai, 2015; Tan
& Kim, 2015). We support learners’ game design as it requires critical thinking skills as well as deeper understanding
of contents depicted within the game (Gee, 2008). In addition, we suggest that adolescent learners participate in
interest-driven design activities by “bring in their objects or ideas of significance to engage in pedagogic discourse
with their peers and teachers or mentors” (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015; p.545). We concur that such a learning
experience offers learners opportunities to express or affirm identity, to find ways of being, doing, and knowing. This
experience can also help students to develop ways of expanding their experience to their lives outside school (Kim,
Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015). Figure 1 summarizes literature on adolescents’ activities through interest-driven
participatory design.
Figure 1. Adolescents’ activities through interest-driven participatory design.
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2.1. Tinkering, experimenting, (re)creating, (re)formulating, and refining
When learners design based on their own interest, they are in charge of their learning process through tinkering,
experimenting, and creating media products and other artifacts collaboratively (Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton,
& Robison, 2007; Resnick, 2007), or they engage in what Kim, Tan, and Bielaczyc (2015) would identify as the
emerging culture of learning. This leads learners to (re)create, (re)formulate, and refine collective norms while coming
up with their own solutions.
Learners engage in critical thinking through this iterative process, which may take different forms while designing a
game in classroom. For instance, refining their designs comes from the team evaluating and thinking critically about
the artifact that they are making. Discussions about their design changes among the team members as well as providing
feedback on another team’s artifacts can imply such critical thinking. Students gain a much deeper understanding of
knowledge and skills when they are situated in the context of use, such as designing a game (Gee, 2008).
2.2. Drawing on previous knowledge to advance goals
We concur with the researchers who argue that the design process itself can have considerable learning outcomes (Tan
& Kim, 2015; Kafai & Vasudevan, 2015), especially because it gives them an opportunity to draw and expand on their
previous knowledge. It helps to connect their interest and preference with the knowledge. Based on a study with 80
secondary school students (aged 13-14), Felicia and Pitt (2007) demonstrated the importance of user-centered design
for educational games by understanding learners’ interest and preferences. Even with user-centered design, however,
the designer often takes charge of the designs based on the data collected from users (Maguire, 2001). Participatory
design offers students opportunities for learning by doing (i.e. designing game) that enacts in school and out-of-school
literacy practices (Tan & Kim, 2015). Learning progresses “along the trajectories of participation and growth of
identity” (Greeno, 1997, p.9, as cited in Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015) when the adolescents draw on their funds of
knowledge to advance their personal and academic goals.
2.3. Expressing, taking, or negotiating roles and identities
When learning is associated with designing something from their own interest, learners not only express or affirm
their identity but also take new positions or identities with their own designs (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015). They
become designers in addition to being players or consumers of artifacts. Learners become literate in certain areas
through the designing and sharing process, which indicates their becoming of a different sort of persons through a
pedagogic discourse (Merchant & Carrington, 2009). Learning activities become meaningful when learners can shape
their social identities (Greenhow & Robelia, 2009), which has direct relevance to taking and negotiating roles within
the participatory design contexts.
In Fields and colleagues’ (2015) study, students took and negotiated their roles within the teams in a participatory
design attempt, to tackle the challenge in hand. Taking and negotiating roles in an interest-driven participatory design
is another topic that deserves paying closer attention to. When students see themselves as independent experts who
can modify their collective learning process, “shifting from the ideological world of teacher-dominant curriculum to
their ideological becoming of a learning community” begins (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015, p.549). Together, learners
find and shape their own ways of being, doing, and knowing.
2.4. Finding ways of being, doing, and knowing
When learning is interest-driven, motivating, and engaging, its outcomes are meaningful to the individuals and
communities they belong to (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015). As Mawson (2013, p.444) suggests, “[a] technological
process begins with the identification of a purpose or aim and ends when a final outcome is developed and evaluated.”
Designing games can entail a similar process of identifying a goal or an existing problem in the game, developing a
system to achieve or solve it, and iteratively evaluating the system based on the identified goals or problems.
This supports learners to actively engage in iterative modification of their solutions for the challenge in hand and to
identify themselves within the community (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015). In other words, young learners learn the
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“way of being in the world” (Wenger, 2008, p.106). This also resonates ideological becoming, or the fashion that
people develop ways of viewing world (Bakhtin, 1986; Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015).
The artifacts created by learners are not just the products of their co-constructed knowledge with
others, but are reflective of the shared practices of their affinity groups (Gee, 2005) and ways of
being and becoming. Learner-generated designs embody choices and formation of the self and the
selves in the course of the designing, be it a competent designer, a programmer, or a responsible
member of a community, and implicate their future choices of actions (Kim, Tan, and Bielaczyc,
2015, p.549).
2.5. Bringing together of materiality and embodied intentions
According to Kim, Tan, and Bielaczyc (2015, p.547), “design can be understood as artifacts in the making.” The
quality of what students create and offer as the final product is not very important, “the coming together of materiality
and embodied humans engaged in particular activities” (Boivin, 2008, p.167, as cited in Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015)
has greater impacts on learning through interest-driven and participatory design. For instance, social and cultural
interactions, including media, family, friends, mentors, and peers can contribute to the bringing together of materiality
and embodied intentions. What and how students design is tied to their immediate social and cultural context, and
influence its learning environments, learning culture, and the identities of learners (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015).
In a participatory design study of making physical and digital games with e-textiles, Richard and Kafai (2015)
observed how participants articulated an understanding of bidirectionally responsive design and its affordances. From
the post-workshop interviews, Richard and Kafai (2015) concluded that participants came to value creating a system
with multiple points of responsiveness. Moreover, they observed participants’ computational thinking was influenced
by working with partners. According to participants, they could do more than one person could have done.
3. Research Design
For our study, we took an ethnographic approach to observe and interview grade 9 students at a Western Canadian
school who were designing games in a Career and Technology Studies classroom. Twenty-seven students of the class
teamed up freely in eight groups of two to five adolescents. Teams were formed based on student preferences, and
most teams were gender-oriented except one team of two. Learners previously formed groups and shaped initial design
ideas for computer games before the winter break. After several discussions with the researchers, the teacher (Megan,
pseudonym) challenged learners to test their ideas by creating playable games in any form. Students started further
designing and developing games in various forms from physical card games to 3D video games.
We collected data through multiple sources including weekly observations, group presentations, written individual
reflections of own design by students, oral and written group feedback on another group’s game, and final interviews
with groups recorded on videotapes. We also recorded informal conversations with the teacher throughout the
observations, which also helped us to compare our observations with her perspectives.
Videotapes of interviews were transcribed verbatim whereas observational videos during class were analyzed by
reviewing the recording themselves. We initially analyzed using the margin coding approach proposed by Bertrand,
Brown, & Ward (1992). Margin coding involved reading and identifying themes within the video transcriptions of
student interviews. One researcher initially identified codes and categories in line with the research goals (i.e.,
understanding how students’ experiences influence different learning trajectories and develop gaming literacy) and
objectives (i.e., providing learners with more opportunities to work together and develop their own ways of creating
artifacts of their own interest), another researcher independently checked the interpretations, and then two researchers
discussed the interpretations for the consensus. A similar strategy was also used to analyze other collected data such
as weekly observations and videos, group presentations, student written individual reflections, written feedback, and
conversation with the teacher. In order to establish the trustworthiness of our findings, we triangulate our findings
from these multiple sources of data between the two researchers.
After we went through this process multiple times, the codes and comments were recorded on an excel spreadsheet to
allow for systematic analysis. A further review of the codes in NVivo 11 and referring to the transcripts led us to an
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agreement on the codes. We compared a set of codes and keywords made based on our observations to find patterns
of their design activities (Figure 2). We coded data in three levels and gradually clustered them based on the similarity.
As figure 2 shows, for each cluster and its sub-clusters, a tonality of a color was assigned and organized hierarchically
in NVivo 11 to further explore the relationships of the codes and keywords as a group of linked items. The hierarchical
chart produced in NVivo 11 could also help us visually explore and compare how much of the coded data are dedicated
to certain keywords or clusters. For example, as the course focus was on designing games by the students a
considerable amount of coded data was related to the game design elements so as well as the issues to address.
We then came up with the framework for the roles of adolescents’ interest-driven participatory design based on the
literature review, which were compared to the codes emerged from open-coding to further interpret our findings. For
example, when we observed students finding and discussing glitchesrelated to the game mechanics, we categorized
them as the issues to address. Then, we related their iterative process of finding and addressing issues with tinkering,
experimenting, and creating (Figure 3). When we observed that students were involved in decision-making’, we
categorized this process as a way of learningthis important skill. We found this type of activities tightly relevant to
finding their own ways of being, doing, and knowing’ (Figure 3).
Figure 2. Hierarchical chart showing clusters and sub-clusters of codes and keywords.
Figure 3. Links between sample clusters and codes.
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4. Findings
Students developed several parts of their games, such as narrative, backstory of characters, rules, and mechanics.
Students evaluated each other’s games to identify the plot holes and other weaknesses. Eight groups of students
designed eight different games such as a Sandbox Role Playing Game (open world video game), a mobile augmented
reality (AR) game, two Minecraft games, two board games, and one card game. In this paper, we focus on four groups’
works to demonstrate what we observed as part of their participatory game design activities. These four groups include
two all-female and two all-male student groups with four very different final games: Z-Days (Terry, Bob, and Roy,
board game, Figure 4a), Voxel War (Zoey, Diego, Kevin, Graham, and Jasper, sandbox role-playing game, Figure
4b). When Night Falls (Veronika, Silvia, Tamara, and Ashley, Minecraft game, Figure 5a), and Meme Game (Emily,
Katherine, Elena, and Kate, card game, Figure 5b).
4.1. Shifting from individual game players to co-designers
As learners progress with their designs, they inevitably shift from individual game players with varying preferences
to co-designers that put together their own ideas. Throughout the process and in line with the purpose of the class,
students explored, expressed or affirmed their existing or new identities. Co-designing as teams, they also explored
new ways of being, doing, and knowing, by making decisions as designers, as well as thinking critically about their
own and other students’ game design projects. Undoubtedly, this was not a smooth shift but an interesting effort for
many of them. Elena mentioned, I can’t remember anything bad that wasn’t funin talking about the game design
experience, whereas Terry explained I liked that we could make our own group so it’s easier to collaborate our
ideas”. In this theme, we talk about three subthemes of exploring identity, finding their own ways, and being critical
peers.
4.1.1.What a different kid!-- Exploring identity through taking charge of their designs
According to Megan (the teacher), the members of Voxel War group considerably showed different ways of being in
this classroom compared to her previous experience with them. For instance, according to our conversation on March
9th, Megan remembered Zoey (pseudonym) as formerly a very quiet boy, but in this class, Megan was surprised to see
his change. She said, “what a different kid than he was last year in grade seven. He really came out of his shell”.
Throughout our observations, Zoey actively engaged with researchers to explain their game design ideas and was
perceived as an expert, whom other class members often called on for graphic design skills. Moreover, Zoey could
see himself as developing toward a future career with skills he was acquiring. He said, we learned the skills necessary
[for game development], such as design, code, even 2-D design”.
Terry, a member of Z-Days (a zombie fighting board game) team explained how his teammates had been at the
beginning: [s]ometimes somebody won't take it seriously.” However, as revealed in the final interview (Appendix),
team members gradually took roles and distributed the duties among themselves. Megan shared that Terry enquired
her about potential future jobs for him in game design industry. In both cases, Zoey and Terry were exploring game
design as possible future careers and actively expressed their aspiration toward developing this new identity. They
also expressed this identity in a fashion that other people, such as classmates, team members, and teacher could
Figure 4a: Z-Days’ final game being played Figure 4b: Voxel War game being played
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recognize. To exemplify, Jasper (pseudonym), a teammate of Zoey, jokingly mentioned in the final interview
(Appendix) that[Zoey]’s late night working and overachieving” was a challenge to the rest of the team.
4.1.2.Doing it myself-- Finding their own ways of being, doing, and knowing
One way that students found to work in a team was dividing and taking roles. For example, in response to a question
about their teamwork, Elena (pseudonym) in Meme Game team explained that “we split up into two groups, me and
[Kate] and then [Katherine] and [Emily].Kate and Emily explained that Katherine and Emily did more of the ideas
and took the role of masterminds. Elena and Kate did more of graphics and took the role of developers. Emily also
pointed out that Elena kept the team on task. Kate explained in the interview that “I learned a lot more by doing it
myself and designing something rather than just doing something like a teacher would make a project about this.
The members of Meme Game team not only took initiatives to find their roles but also realized that they were learning
through their own ways rather than through the teachers’ way. This also meant that team members needed to go
through the process of understanding each other’s ideas to decide which ones would work for their game. This was
the case for When Night Falls as well. According to Veronika they were constantly making decisions bygetting all
of our ideas together just to build one game.Emily (Meme Game) explained that “[w]henever we just argued, we’d
argue and argue until someone gave up and then whoever gave up on it we’d use their idea.These debates for making
decisions in a group undoubtedly could help students to evolve their ideas as Katherine mentioned students learned
[h]ow to work in a group a lot better than before.
To do the tasks and perform the roles well, students may need to know more about specific subjects. For instance,
Zoey, a Voxel War team member, pointed out in a session that Diego and himself needed to learn coding along with
developing the game in Unity engine to implement their game. He explained that we found a bunch of tutorials for
Unity but [Diego] is busy.He later explained I made the graphics and [Diego] put it together.In this case, Voxel
War members used online tutorials to develop specific skills, such as processing 3D graphics in a game development
software (3D Unity). Students cherished their being, doing, and knowing as independent individuals when making
their own decisions. Graham, another Voxel War team member, mentioned:
[i]t was very nice to be able to do what you want with this. It was to be able to be creative and
say, I wanna do this and then make something outta that.
Jasper, another Voxel War team member, added “[r]ather than being handed an assignment that is you have to do
this, this and this and it has to be specifically done in this one way.Voxel War members also spoke of their iterative
decision making throughout the process. According to Zoey it’s been making decisions, going back on those
decisions, going back on those decisions, and making different ones. Graham talked about collaborative decision
making and explained that they decided to “accept each other’s ideas and incorporate all of our ideas into one game.
Preceding studentsmaking their own decisions is the teacher’s willingness to allow such opportunities. Z-Days, a
group of three boys who desired to create a zombie game, had doubts about their idea of zombie fighting game at the
beginning since they were not sure if the teacher (Megan) would endorse their idea. Megan remembered that they
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became interested in the project when she told them they could create a zombie game that would have violence (Kim,
Bastani, & Baradaran Rahimi, 2017). Later, Terry, mentioned “I love video games, especially zombie games, and I
think it's really cool that we are creating one ourselves.” As soon as they found out that they could make such a game
in the class, Z-Days, who did not show much engagement up to this point, became excited about designing the game
(Kim et al., 2017). Bob, another Z-Days member, pointed out:
we got more freedom to say what we wanted and make up our own ideas. I find with every other
class you’re just using everybody else’s way, you can’t use your own, but with this you can make
your own ideas, choose what ideas you want to use.
4.1.3. Whole bunch of plot holes-- Critical peers in co-design practices
The game design project was a good practice for the students to think critically about their own design and fellow
students’ designs. For instance, when Kevin discussed the idea of having a purchase system in their Voxel War game,
Zoey questioned the suggestion by asking[w]hat are you going to buy? It is a single player RPG.
On March 2nd, students had to play-test each other’s game and provided feedback to other teams’ projects (Figures 4a,
4b, 5a, and 5b). According to Silvia, a member of When Night Falls team (Figure 5a):
a turning point was when we played with [games], we got into groups with other groups, and we
started talking about our games and they told us a whole bunch of things [such as] plot holes, so
that was really when we fixed everything up.
This session was also critical to Meme Game team (Figure 5b). Katherine mentioned, “it was kind of falling apart that
one class when [Silvia] was testing it (Meme Game).” She continued [t]hey were able to tell us what we need to fix
and I didn’t really think about that.” Emily explained in the interview, “[w]hen we really did it (game-testing), it was
almost all chance there was no strategy whatsoever, so we had to change that.
On March 16th, students were asked to individually reflect on the design project, including evaluating their own
projects. Silvia, a When Night Falls member, pointed out that[n]ot including everyone[’s idea]was a challenge of
their team. Tamara noted I find it difficult to create a very set plot without holes. We’ve changed our plot and
gameplay a countless number of times due to the fact it was getting confusing.” Veronika explained in the interview,
I think we may have a hard time keeping people playing and having people play over again. I feel once a player has
played they may not want to play again because it will sort of be the same.
4.2. Emerging as active thinkers and convergent problem-solvers
Students could find their own ways to converge ideas and solve problems for their designs. They were tinkering,
experimenting, and creating with their designs by coming up with their own solutions, drawing from their funds of
knowledge and working together. Comparing the class with other classes, Bob mentioned, “I find with every other
class you’re just using everybody else’s way, you can’t use your own, but with this you can make your own ideas,
choose what ideas you want to use.Roy expressed that “[i]t’s better than just sitting around in a desk taking notes.
Within this theme, we discuss three subthemes of repositioning their out-of-school experience, iterating for their
designs, and coming up with their own solutions.
4.2.1. I’ve played multiple” – Repositioning their gaming experience as their funds of knowledge
A common strategy that students applied to advance their goals was to build on their prior knowledge and experience.
For instance, Elena delineated that prior experience of playing games could help them design a better game since
[y]ou know what a good game looks like, what's enjoyable to play, what makes players angry.Katherine, Grahame,
and Terry shared a similar sentiment and pointed out that their prior experience and knowledge could help them to
advance their own game. Graham from Voxel War also relied on his prior knowledge and experience:
I know how to find plot holes with games, as I love to make everything make sense, and I know as
a gamer how annoying it is to have an unsolved plot hole.
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Prior gaming experience provided him a wider perspective on plot holes as an important game design issue. Terry,
pointed to game aesthetics and narrative as strategies to grab players’ attention in his reflection: “I know what to do if
I want a gamer's attention in the story line or how to make a character liked or hated.
Tamara, a team member of When Night Falls (a Minecraft horror game), similarly pointed out that I have played a
fair amount of video games, and from doing this I have found it easier than some of my group members to make
decisions or come up with things like rules for our game.Veronika and Ashley, other team members of When Night
Falls, shared a similar opinion. Ashley noted that “[s]ince I've played multiple video games I know what situations
could be used to create a challenging spot in the game play.The learners in this context were able to reposition their
gaming experience, which may not be perceived as a useful experience in other contexts. Here, their funds of
knowledge gave them insights to make decisions and advance their game designs.
4.2.2. “Make it more than bad” -- Tinkering, experimenting, and creating
Online resources were a good place for students to start off their designs. For example, Meme Game team researched
characters of their game in relation to current affairs (e.g., US election) from the web, evaluated, and then selected the
preferred ones for their meme cards. Katherine mentioned creating our idea then we had to go back and rework
things to make it better.” This, echoes the idea that tinkering, experimenting, and creating can be an iterative process.
As Katherine further explained [w]e had to go back and fix things and go back and rework some things in our game.
Emily described how their design process was iterative:
It was hard to make all the rules 'cause we had all of our cards made and me and [Katherine]
were trying to figure out of a way, how to make it work and I spent a long time where we had to
try different ones and it didn’t work. So, we tried a different one and that didn’t work either.
Such an iterative process may also take the shape of (re)creating, (re)formulating, and refining. Terry explained that
this iterative design process taught Z-Days team how “to take a pretty terrible idea and make it more good than bad”.
Another example is Kevin, a Voxel War team member, who was involved with the graphics of the game. He mentioned
that “there were a lot of different designs I was thinking of doing but I just couldn’t decide on them and then sometimes
when I did do them, it didn’t work out too well so I just went with the other ones that I originally did.” In this case,
Kevin tinkered with several primary designs and then experimented with them to decide which ones were more
satisfactory as his final design.
4.2.3. “We had to get rid of that” -- Coming up with solutions
While designing their games, students came across various challenges and came up with their own solutions. For
example, Katherine mentioned:
I didn’t really think about it being strategy and chance, I didn’t really think about that until after.
Kate explained that “before we were going to play chance and then if you lost you could throw a
ball at somebody and that’s why we had all the balls. But then that didn’t really work out 'cause
that was all chance still. So, then we had to get rid of that.
Meme Game’s solution to reduce the randomness of their game was to design more for players’ strategic actions.
Elena pointed out the lack of computer skills as a big challenge of the Meme Game team. To overcome this challenge,
they decided to create a card game. Elena mentioned,
I understand that when we thought of computer game, we couldn’t actually make it into a
computer game 'cause we don’t have the skills. And so I think just cutting out the whole 2D
scroller, shooting, not shooting, fighting type game and make it into a card game. That was one
of the major things…
Voxel War’s challenges were related to their ambition to explore varying ways to develop a game. According to Zoey,
the character design was a part of their challenge. He mentioned “I’ve gone from sprites to voxels to a different kind
of voxel to polygons and because it was named Voxel War we had to change the name, which I think we’re going with
Invasion for [final] version.
10
4.3. Becoming game designers: Bringing together of materiality and embodied intentions
Students found that they were achieving the goals of creating games together with fellow students, that what they had
learned in other classes were coming together in this class, and that they needed deeper understanding of various
contents to create games. Graham shared one example:
I feel with our design, I actually learned whatI know that they were in a computer program
last year for our school and they learned some stuff that I wasn’t there for. And then this year I
feel like for this project, I’ve learned the stuff they learned last year, just off of them, teaching me
and having to design the stuff.
Meme Game team members pointed out that they used help of their classmate, Zoey, to advance their Photoshop
knowledge and make their game cover. Meme Game was also inspired by the ongoing social and political events such
as 2016 US presidential election and the news around it. A couple of characters of the game were a former US president
and a 2016 presidential candidate, fictionalized and settled in the game narrative.
Students learned many aspects of the design project, such as how they make their game coherent. For example,
Katherine said,[i]t’s easy to think of an idea but it was hard to make it.Elena added “you can’t have all your ideas.
You have to cut some out and just take what you think are the best.Many learned that their interest-driven design
work bore a multiplicity of ideas, but that they needed to evaluate ideas to make a better game. They also learned to
compose the whole story of their games and make them work together. Kate delineated that I am learning how the
beginning of games start and I have never actually given much thought to that before. Tamara mentioned that for
When Night Falls they “looked up mythical monstersto include them as part of their game narrative, such asif you
go into the bathroom, Bloody Mary is in the mirror.They engage in evaluating and making decisions on which myth
to use and where in the game to use.
Students also went through many challenges to put things together, especially with the software that they used. For
instance, working on the Minecraft version of When Night Falls, Tamara mentioned “I gained a knowledge how
infuriating it is that Minecraft only has square blocks. That’s really difficult to work with, recognizing the limitations
of the software. According to Veronika, theyresearched how to build a circular object [in Minecraft].Thus, they
came to a deeper understanding of the software to overcome the limitations. Kevin, a member of Voxel War, compared
their effort with commercial video-game design process:
the amount of effort put into the game's design, texturing, playability, and soundtrack and it is
astonishing at the quality and detail put into them. And they are still updating and improving
them.
He realized the complexity of game design process from their deep involvement with designing a video-game and
preparing the necessary content for Voxel War. Tamara had a similar reflection on the design of When Night Falls.
She delineated “I didn’t realize just how much goes into a game, and we’re not even making it to the digital stages!
There is so many things to think about, and so many details that go into a video game.
5. Discussion
There is a growing interest in children’s digital practices, especially in an interest-driven participatory context
(Mawson, 2013), while schools are still lacking in their technological resources and training for students and teachers
(Eisenkraft, 2010). Yet, we contend that our classroom should be focused more on design literacy rather than
technological literacy based on our observation and analysis on learners in interest-driven participatory contexts. One
such practice can be game design that ties technological literacy to design literacy and supports systems thinking.
Learners may look at the game as a system that not only works by itself (as a stand-alone system), but is also affected
by outside systems (i.e., inspiration from social or cultural systems in real life) and circumstances (e.g., various players
playing the game). As a part of the pedagogical practice by the teacher, the students were given the freedom to get
inspirations from various sources and external systems, such as the US presidential elections or trending TV shows
(e.g., The Walking Dead). Moreover, the pedagogical practice included a very specific play-testing session where
students played each other’s game and provided feedback to other teams. The play-testing and feedback sessions could
11
create new circumstances and situate some groups in a position to reconsider their game’s system. Such pedagogical
practices help learners as players and designers to understand how systems operate, how they can be similar, and how
they can be transformed into another. Observing and analyzing such practices can help us understand how the systems
and technologies can inspire students to learn and to explore (Eisenkraft, 2010).
Adolescents, through the participatory game design project, went through the process of developing their ideas of
interest into a game. Within the interest-driven participatory game design project, learners explored (alternative)
ideas, solutions, new roles, or even plot holes. Learners also developedand extended their primary or alternative
ideas as well as their personal or group skills and identities. Adolescents attempted to create an artifact based on
their ideas, skills, and learnings in this context. This iterative process occurred from the earliest to the latest stages of
the project, especially with the requirement of creating playable games. Oftentimes, students realized some ideas were
not feasible to implement or did not engage the players, and they developed alternative ideas.
The process of exploring, developing, and creating along with adolescents’ activities through interest-driven
participatory design (Figure 1) can be explained in a more developed framework (Figure 4). Exploring is primarily
involved with finding ways of being, doing, and knowing. Students not only explore (alternative) ideas and ways of
knowing several aspects of the participatory design but also explore new ways of working together to complete the
project. Moreover, adolescents may also explore the potential of taking and negotiating roles throughout the process,
as they take on responsibilities within the team. This may lead students to expressing or affirming a new identity and
seeing themselves in positions that they never imagined before.
Developing not only refers to students evolving the project, but also to personal development. By expressing or
affirming identity, students may develop their personalities (i.e., taking initiative, using skills and knowledge
developed from outside of school) beyond what is expected in traditional school activities. Adolescents heavily draw
on their knowledge to develop personal and academic goals of the project. Moreover, tinkering, experimenting,
(re)creating, (re)formulating, and refining play important roles during the process of generating and advancing ideas.
Figure 6. Process of exploring, developing, and creating along with adolescents’ activities
through interest-driven participatory design.
12
Exploring and developing their designs as well as their identities are continuous and iterative activities while learners
engage in a participatory design activity.
Creating is a transformative activity of giving a communicable shape to ideas, resulting in an artifact. It is a formative
process that also involves tinkering, experimenting, (re)creating, (re)formulating, and refining. Moreover, materiality
and embodied intentions surface through the creation process. Since creating the collective artifact needs incorporating
multiple ideas and exploring alternative solutions to problems, learners engage in finding ways of being, doing, and
knowing together. Learners need to think critically about the project and its problems to come up with their own
solutions. Adolescents’ activities through interest-driven participatory design can deepen the understanding of the
subject matter and implementing meaningful artifacts. When learners use the contents or concepts in specific situations
of use, they gain deep and situated understanding (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Clark, 1991; 1993; 1998; Gee,
2008). Seemingly, when such an understanding is absent, the game design could lack the coherence among its
aesthetics, dynamics, and mechanics.
6. Conclusion
We described some aspects of adolescents’ activities through interest-driven participatory design. Our research
indicates that the exploring, developing, and creating process of participatory design is important for students to
explore and negotiate their identities. More explicitly, this process let students see themselves as co-designers
implementing a shared project. It also helps to find their own ways to engage in deeper learning, drawing on their
funds of knowledge. Such an iterative process could also support students in making their own decisions. They could
come up with solutions that were found beyond textbooks and school desks. Based on our research, we support
adopting interest-driven participatory game design in technology classrooms. This practice engages learners in deep
learning while developing skills that all students need to thrive in their lives. We are further exploring the links
between exploring, developing, and creating when students design complex systems such as games. This can help to
better support and prepare them for the real and complex situations that they will encounter in the future.
We acknowledge that there are other aspects of activities not depicted in this paper. These aspects include a range of
guidance that came from the teacher and researchers. For future studies, we suggest that researchers investigate the
layers of mentorship that occur in developing skills and their design ideas. Sociocultural differences and preferences
in such interest-driven design projects, which we informally witnessed, may have impacts on how we organize
resources and activities. For instance, with the interest-driven game narratives, the number of zombie games
surpassed the other contents, which could have been influenced by popular media and gender. Another future work
could include more in-depth observations of group work, in comparison to the group work in other classes. For
example, students may work similarly or differently in other classes when taking different approaches to learning. In
terms of design activities, we suggest that there could be an initial opportunity for individual learners to come up
with their own design ideas before working on a collaborative design project. Researchers may be able to observe
how students influence each other’s growth in learning and develop their identities. We also suggest that each student
could engage in a more reflective practice for their design, such as keeping design diaries. It will be a good practice
for learners to reflect on and understand their evolving ideas, challenges, and methods. Moreover, it will provide a
rich resource representative of students’ additional work at home or after school hours.
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Appendix
Final interview with students (Protocol and questions)
Good morning (afternoon). Thank you for coming. The purpose of this interview is to learn about your experience of
designing games with your friends and what you learned from it. There are no right or wrong or desirable or
undesirable answers. I would like you to feel comfortable with saying what you really think and how you really feel.
If it is okay with you, I will be video and audio-recording our conversation. The purpose of this is so that I can get all
the details but at the same time be able to carry on an attentive conversation with you. I assure you that all your
comments will remain confidential. I will be compiling a report, which will contain all of your comments using
pseudonyms. I would also like to let you know that I am not an expert in this subject, so I might need to slow you
down and ask you to explain a bit more when you talk about what you learned in your lessons. Before we start,
perhaps it would be helpful if we introduce each other. You can say your pseudonym if you prefer.
I would like to ask you about your experience of game design project. First, I would like you to write down five or
more words on the paper provided, which you may use when explaining what you learned by doing this project. Words
can be concepts, skills, relationships, or any other things that you imagine. I will give you 1 minute.
So, what we will do is that we will start with one person with one word, talk about it, and others who have the same
word or a different word but with a similar intention can talk about them. We will discuss what those ideas mean to
us and how we learned them. We will continue with another word after that.
Let’s start with the first word from you (refer to one of the students). Tell me about the word, and why you thought
about it.
Possible probing questions
Game design literacies and learning:
- What challenges did you have with the project?
- How did your game design evolve and why?
- How did you decide on these mechanics and what research did you have to do to create this design?
- What are the things that you would like to do more in the future on your own or with your friends based on
this project?
Classroom culture:
- What did you learn about your teachers and your friends? Tell me about specific incidents that you remember
- How do you feel about this type of learning?
Reflective assessment practices:
- What kinds of feedback you received and gave and how did it help you and your friends?
- (Showing artifacts that show game design change) What made you make these changes?
... Learners engagement in a participatory game design project can take the forms of seeking inspiration from beyond the classroom or learning from peers (Baradaran Rahimi & Kim, 2019;B. Kim et al., 2015). ...
... For example, a learner may see an idea in a single way but when this idea is shared with teammates, the learner may see it from different perspectives through the feedbacks received from teammates. Participatory game (re)design projects may encourage a variety of new approaches (Baradaran Rahimi & Kim, 2019;Jenkins, 2009;Resnick, 2007). To exemplify, experimenting with tile shape, finding new ways of combining tiles, and tinkering or refining solutions to accommodate changes in the game system in a matching tabletop game can motivate actions and get learners to actively learn systems thinking (Baradaran Rahimi et al., 2020). ...
... For instance, redesigning a game in a mathematics classroom may promote and pave the way for exploring complex topics in math like division, combination, and topology 1 . Moreover, the social interactions within and between the teams can promote learning in terms of giving and receiving feedback as well as group decision making (Baradaran Rahimi & Kim, 2019;Zimmerman, 2009). The main problem that learners solve in redesigning a game is that they introduce a change to the game system of an existing game (initial state) and accommodate these changes within a new game system (new state) through design and playtesting (Baradaran Rahimi et al., 2020). ...
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... Game development based approaches have been found to be effective in promoting problem-solving skills among children (Chu & Hung, 2015). With more and more students being exposed to game development or even taking it up based on their own interests (Rahimi & Kim, 2019), there is a need for the inclusion of proper game design practices in these initial stages and tools to simplify the process. CONTACT Noble Saji Mathews Email: ch19b023@iittp.ac.in ...
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... Recent research shows that game design approach supports students' interest-driven learning while engaging them in systems thinking (Baradaran Rahimi & Kim, 2019). Games indeed require a system of various meanings, such as game pieces that represent the system elements, the rules that govern the relationships among them, numbers or points that represent the values of their actions (Kim & Bastani, 2017). ...
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Menneskene har med sine kreative krefter erstattet natur med kultur i et slikt omfang at en ny geologisk epoke er foreslått, antropocen. Design som disiplin bærer i seg en transformativ agenda – alltid på vei mot noe nytt. Vil utvikling av grunnskoleelevenes designkompetanse bare øke belastningen på naturen? Her er det avgjørende hvilke roller elevene tilbys gjennom utdanning, samt hvordan design forstås og praktiseres. I denne litteraturstudien settes omstilling mot et mer bærekraftig samfunn som premiss når akademiske tekster granskes. Fire narrativ peker seg ut og danner utgangspunkt for en definisjon der målet for designkompetanse på grunnskolenivå er den kritiske og skapende borger som kan nærme seg problemer som komplekse, fremme endring gjennom egne designprosesser og møte designløsninger med spørsmål om hvordan de støtter opp under bærekraftige praksiser.
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Approaches to constructionist gaming---students making their own games for learning through programming---have mostly focused on screen designs. Hybrid crafting approaches that integrate crafts with digital components can extend game making beyond the screen and provide new opportunities for learning about computational concepts, skills, and perspectives. In this paper, we report on a series of workshops with middle school students (ages 11-14 years) who used Makey Makey, Play Doh, textiles and other materials to craft touchpads, augmented board games, and wearable controllers for their Scratch games. We examined students' approaches to computing and crafting in their onscreen and off screen designs. We discuss in which ways constructionist gaming can benefit from extending their designs into the physical world and what moving constructionist gaming beyond the screen has to offer for K-12 programming instruction.
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