Need ideas for games to play and discuss in a high school game design class.
May 5, 2011 4:43 PM   Subscribe

I will be teaching a high school class about game design to 9th and 10th graders in New York City starting next Tuesday. Looking for some suggestions for a wide range of interesting and conversation-provoking (free) online games I can have the kids play in-class.

I have a few ideas, but I wanted to see if the Metafilter Mind had some good suggestions. There are *so* many online games out there, there's just no way (that I know of) to keep on top of the options.

Facebook games are fine. I don't know if all of the kids have FB accounts, but I think most do. Twitter-based games are out -- apparently that's not considered kid-friendly (and I don't think is all that popular to begin with amongst them).

I'm trying to make this a class about something beyond casual games, but it's going to be hard to avoid using them as examples -- especially since I want everyone to play the game for 5-15 minutes and then discuss as a group.

And I'm not just talking about casual Flash games. Any game I can have the kids play in-class.

posted by chasing to Education (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I think Ayiti: The Cost of Life is pretty thought-provoking for that age. Also, it takes about 20 minutes to play the game though.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:47 PM on May 5, 2011

Anchorhead or any number of other text-based interactive fiction games. (You could also touch on the Inform language if you have any empty spots in your curriculum!)
posted by usonian at 4:52 PM on May 5, 2011

Dwarf Fortress

While these are serious suggestions, I don't imagine you'll want to cover the learning curve for Dwarf Fortress, and I don't imagine you'll want the kids lost in the game while you're trying to teach them something. :)

Wish I had a class like this when I was that age.

Good Luck.
posted by AltReality at 4:58 PM on May 5, 2011

I would like to suggest the Grow series of games. They are short, fun, thought-provoking and quite unique, I think.
posted by sparkatito at 5:06 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

In our school the gaming kids play Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan at the beginning of the course.
posted by sadtomato at 5:46 PM on May 5, 2011

Best answer: Every Day the Same Dream

Most definitely thought-provoking.
posted by lettuchi at 5:55 PM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm sure you've done this already, but whichever games you choose, make sure that they're not blocked by the district filter! (If there is a district filter...they have foiled many a digital activity with my students in the past, though.)

Oh, and my kids used to play Runescape like no tomorrow.
posted by smirkette at 6:11 PM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: smirkette: You teach a game design class?
posted by chasing at 6:14 PM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: "Every Day the Same Dream" is a good one. Very easy to learn. Not *exactly* a game (more of an interactive storybook), but good for conversation.
posted by chasing at 6:21 PM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: I wish I could download free game demos from the Mac App Store, but they're using PCs...
posted by chasing at 6:21 PM on May 5, 2011

Hapland is the first game I remember playing that made me angry at it for not being clearer about what to do, but so damn rewarding when I figured things out.
posted by Mchelly at 6:37 PM on May 5, 2011

What about NAWNCO, posted here a few weeks back? You could explore the "let the player figure out the rules" type of game.
posted by King Bee at 6:51 PM on May 5, 2011

Best answer: If you want to inspire kids to create games, I'd look for games which are more lo-fi and indie and might make them think "I can do that!" rather than something super polished and intimidating.

The following free associated list of games, I think, are interesting to talk for a variety of reasons, and cover a pretty broad spectrum of genres and styles:

Sleep is Death
The Marriage
Today I Die
Achievement Unlocked
You Only Live Once
Robot Unicorn Attack
Any Tower Defense game or Plants vs Zombies
Any other Popcap game.
Tetris and it's many variations.
Kingdom of Loathing and Progress Quest
Spelunky or Nethack
Photopia or Shade
I suppose that Portal and Braid and World of Goo are too obvious?

Lots of games have free demos, btw.

I'd also spend a class playing this video of one of Jonathan Blow's talks and see what they think about it...

Also, there are a ton of game designers in new york -- i'd send out some emails and see if anyone wants to come out for a Q&A with the kids.
posted by empath at 7:09 PM on May 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, a fun project might be to get a bunch of copies of a board game or a card game that they might be unfamiliar with, throw away the rule book and split the kids up into groups and see what kind of rules they can come up with.
posted by empath at 7:21 PM on May 5, 2011

My son's been playing Adventure Quest for years. Very simple flash RPG game the kids can play free in a browser.
posted by misha at 7:46 PM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: Wow -- yeah, thanks for that list, empath. Passage is definitely one to use. One of the few short games with a satisfying poetic point. Worth hearing kids' perspectives on, for sure. And Canabalt is perfect, as well.

I'll take a look at the others later. Sadly I'm not sure IF (a la Photopia or Anchorhead) are going to work. Maybe for homework assignment sorts of things. I wish Portal were free and easily accessible on PCs -- that would be a great example. (Valve games, man...)

QWOP might just piss everyone off, but that's a lesson right there! ;-)

posted by chasing at 7:49 PM on May 5, 2011

There's a free portal demo on steam.
. I don't know how much of the game it includes, though.

I chose Shade and Photopia specifically because they're very, very short and almost impossible to not finish. If you give the kids 30 minutes or so, most of them should be able to get through them.
posted by empath at 9:03 PM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: empath,

Thanks, again, for all of the suggestions.

I think my only fear with text-based games is just totally losing many of the kids right out of the gate. Once the kids are using computers, I kind of worry that I'm competing with the entire internet for their attention.

But I don't know -- this will be a totally new experience for me.
posted by chasing at 9:09 PM on May 5, 2011

The thing with QWOP and others of its ilk is it appears so simple, but ... isn't. So you could use it to discuss concepts like "easy to learn, hard to master", which is one reason why people continue to play those kinds of games. has lots of games built by people using Game Maker. There's a browser plug-in that is needed in order to play though, so you'd have to run it by IT first.

Urgent Evoke could lead to discussions about serious games.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:40 AM on May 6, 2011

Fire Boy and Water Girl?
I don't really know anything about trends or theory of game design or what is appropriate skill-level-wise for this age, but I find this one unique as it is a two player game that requires cooperation to solve various puzzles. Also, there is a Fire Boy Water Girl 2, as well.

Quest for the Rest and any other Amanita Design games are really visually interesting and unique as well as requiring non-traditional sort of navigation and problem solving challenges. I could see kids being inspired by the way Amanita uses photos and textures to create a background, within which simple, limited parts are animated. It's flash.
posted by dahliachewswell at 6:46 AM on May 6, 2011

oops, guess empath already mentioned Machinarium which is an Amanita design.
posted by dahliachewswell at 6:47 AM on May 6, 2011

The rooms escape games by Neutral are the best in the genre.
posted by frecklefaerie at 7:50 AM on May 6, 2011

Best answer: I think a day spent playing some board games might be useful too: (how many hours total is this class?)

Like, for example, you could do a class on multiplayer games and king-making behavior and how and whether game designers deal with the problem, centered around Risk, Diplomacy and Settlers of Cataan.
posted by empath at 8:25 AM on May 6, 2011

(or Diplomacy and Magic the Gathering and the phenomenon of metagaming)
posted by empath at 8:27 AM on May 6, 2011

Response by poster: empath,

The class will be eight 2hr sessions plus a handful of field trips.

Having a board game class is an excellent idea. Whenever I play Diplomacy, I wind up hating someone -- so maybe that's not good. But I *really* haven't played board games in years, so any suggestions you might have would be very well-received. :-)
posted by chasing at 9:17 AM on May 6, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, Werewolf/Mafia is definitely on the agenda, btw. The kids definitely won't be able to enter polite technorati culture without knowing how to play that.
posted by chasing at 9:18 AM on May 6, 2011

Best answer: The fun thing about Mafia is you can immediately get into game design. Just play a couple of sessions and then let them create new roles for people. Everyone I've ever played this with has started doing this without any prompting, anyway.
posted by empath at 9:52 AM on May 6, 2011

Response by poster: One update: I'm going to be writing about this experience on my blog. (Self-link!)
posted by chasing at 12:38 PM on May 7, 2011

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