By Brian Imfeld and Stacy Darwin,
posted on Mar 9, 2023
When I was in elementary school, it wasn’t possible to play video games in the classroom. Today, students can design their own video games, full of unique characters and worlds using apps like Bloxels. (Other apps include PikoPixel, Piskel Edit, PixelApp, and Pro Motion NG.) Collaboration between the school library and the art room allowed students to use their visual and information literacy skills to create and share exciting, interactive games with their classmates.
Ella E., lion video game, grade four.Jackson B. and Saniya M. test out their prairie dog video game.Irena C., octopus video game, grade five.Paige A., anole video game, grade four.Jayden, Holloman video game.
One of the goals of this project was to exemplify the importance of following a design thinking process. Complex tasks are more manageable when they are broken into smaller objectives. This strategy is a valuable life skill and applies to all subjects, not just art.
Video games typically go through a lengthy development process before hitting the marketplace. Our students replicated this real-life process when they researched their topic, wrote a storyboard, designed in-game artifacts, created animations, and assembled the components into a playable video game.
The relationship between the game designer and player is another important component of creating a video game. Gamers need information from the game in order to advance. Students took notes and cited reliable sources for their research.
People who have the ability to present information to an audience need to ensure that their research is accurate and their communication is clear. Content creators must maintain this relationship when they are communicating with their audience, whether they are journalists, YouTubers, or game designers.
The school librarian and I decided that students could extend their science knowledge by choosing an animal and its environment as the subject of their game. Students completed a research folder that contained visual and written objectives. Each game required realistic enemies and research-based obstacles for players to face. Students referred to their folders throughout the game design process, and as a result, many of their content questions were answered before they even operated Bloxels.
Bloxels is an app that allows students to create side-scrolling video games, similar to the original Super Mario Bros. Students designed characters, enemies, power-ups, and collectables. They communicated to players through level design and text blocks interspersed throughout the game.
After mini-lessons on character design, level design, and animation, students created the components of their game at their own pace. When it came time to focus on the final product, they faced the challenge of meeting all the requirements while creating their best game. This balancing act allowed students to excel in different areas, giving each game different strengths and weaknesses.
Students could test their games at any time by clicking a button. As they evaluated their work in progress, they could make immediate corrections. Classmates could also test each others’ unfinished games to provide feedback.
One surprising element of this lesson was the importance of empathy. Students had to imagine what their classmates were seeing to create an engaging experience. We take for granted how intuitive video games can be. So often players just know what to do and where to go. Our games were not as intuitive, and we discussed a variety of strategies to guide players without being too intrusive.
To understand the basics of animation, we examined photo and video examples, as well as physical artifacts such as a zoetrope, animation cels, and film frames. Even though new technology makes it more realistic and easier to create, animation is still a series of images creating the illusion of movement.
The first level of animation for students was to create one image each to represent their character standing, walking, jumping, and falling. They could then create additional frames for more complex actions. Impressive animations could attract players to the game, but other aspects of game design, like story and gameplay, also needed attention.
The final task was to publish the completed game, and everyone became gamers and game reviewers. Students created their own scoring system to accompany a written review. Each review was required to contain two positive comments and one suggestion for improvement.
Students were now on the other side of the empathy component. As players, they could experience the problems they tried to anticipate as designers. They also saw how other students communicated with the audience. We had a lot of fun, and we also learned how a work of art, even a video game, can communicate to individuals who see and experience it.
Brian Imfeld is the art teacher and Stacy Darwin is the school librarian at Abbotts Creek Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. BImfeld@wcpss.net; SDarwin@wcpss.net
Producing: Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.
Art teachers share lessons that focus on media arts, digital processes, and new technologies. Students design and develop meaningful side-scrolling video games, learn light painting techniques to capture long-exposure photographs, turn 2D drawings into 3D-printed models, create a digital floral folk-art piece inspired by their heritage, and more.