Toolkit

Engagement Games

A Learning is Open toolkit written by the Engagement Lab

What are Engagement Games

Games can be catalysts for the power and productivity of playful learning. People are often drawn to games because they create a “magic circle,” or game world, in which a defined set of rules apply, sometimes different from the real world. Games have a handful of core components, or mechanics:

  • Objectives;
  • Clear set of rules, or mechanics;
  • Immediate feedback;
  • Opportunities to fail safely for the purpose of mastery; and
  • Room to play!

In these instances, play means the experience of trying different actions and strategies to win, and the excitement and suspense that accompany the experience.

Unlike many notable learning games, like SimCity, engagement games are unique: They harness play to help students learn difficult concepts and—more importantly—to engage players and apply their learning in live, real world scenarios.

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Engagement games use game mechanics to bring play and serious real world processes together, so that real action occurs while playing the game. Fusing a sense of play onto serious processes—from community deliberations to disaster preparedness—can result in increased participation and diversity, increased trust in the system and each other, and most importantly, increased ability to understand and affect change.

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Engagement games are played for their larger real world connections but also because they’re fun. A system with built-in uncertainty about how to win and multiple opportunities to interact with other players encourages people to consider new perspectives and explore new possibilities. This is very different from “gamification,” in which the game’s goal isn’t to create new perspectives through play, but to use game mechanics such as points or badges to efficiently incentivize a predetermined set of actions, such as completing an online course module.

Engagement games for school help students and teachers “try on” the roles of community stakeholders and think through challenging scenarios—like increasing neighborhood safety or developing a culture of respect in the classroom. Engagement games bridge the classroom, school, and broader community for discussions about topics like the uses of social media in the school and home, or community access to healthy food.

Engagement games bring together diverse groups in a creative, collaborative, and playful approach to learning about pressing social issues. They require players to address real world problems by learning from peers and community members and drawing on core content knowledge.

Engagement Games & The Classroom

Engagement games help connect core academic learning activities to the world beyond the classroom. They can give students a voice in decisions that would otherwise be beyond their reach by bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders in playful civic learning. Engagement games cultivate a range of 21st century skills, including collaboration and communication, systems thinking, and persuasive reasoning, all of which are embraced by the Common Core State Standards.

Engagement games encourage systemic thinking

Game play enables exploration, experimentation, and discovery within defined systems. Games encourage players to navigate a complex system of risks and tradeoffs and can be used to mimic dynamic elements and relationships from the real world. Consider the cascading effects of natural disasters, the way plans and priorities change in real time during a public decision-making process, or the probabilities at play in long-term planning.

Engagement games focus attention and build meaning

Uncertainty and suspense are built into the game’s structure. Escalating challenges and clear feedback on each new decision sustain attention, support reflection, and build meaning.

Engagement games build confidence in the group’s power

Engagement games create opportunities for students to reflect on their place in the larger community and empathize with others. They also create opportunities for collaborative problem solving.

Engagement games introduce play into serious work

Engagement games blur the line between play, learning, and the “work” of civic participation. While they are not as efficient as more traditional actions, such as teachers voting for a new school policy, or students filling out a questionnaire about their interests, the inefficiencies in games create opportunities for social interaction, reflection, and learning.

The Engagement Games Process

Engagement games have been used by schools, districts, and local governments in the United States and overseas. Engagement games offer a new, playful approach to building community capacity to create change. Students can draw on their own knowledge of their school communities and contribute their unique voices to the creation of a shared game experience for everyone. This process enlivens civic engagement for the school community, and it cultivates students as leaders online and offline.

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Explore the Problem

In designing an engagement game, the first step is to identify the problem and the real-world processes you want to influence. Schools have approached this initial step as a community-needs assessment, an asset-mapping project, an advocacy/community-organizing project, or other data-gathering initiative necessary to inform district policy-making.

Select

Begin by encouraging students to brainstorm with other students, teachers, and community members to choose a topic. Students might do a neighborhood walk or create a word web about particular issues in their school. Teachers could invite local employers, nonprofit leaders, or parents to come share their expertise.

Investigate

Now that students have chosen their topic, it’s time to explore it. Students may conduct interviews, have discussions, read articles, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and explore social media and other web-based resources. They can take a location-based approach, as well, by doing face-to-face outreach and physical exploration. Remind students to reach out to different demographics within the greater community to learn about their perspectives.

Identify the Actions

Once students understand the issue or problem the game is addressing, the next step is to identify the real world actions needed to address things. This includes actions from three distinct roles:

Game Designer/Facilitator

How does the game better enable the people who created it (students, teachers, others) to lead the community in taking action based on the game?

Player/Citizen

How does the game enable a typical player to take direct action in the real world? (For classroom-level games, the game creators and the players will probably be the same people. The distinction only makes sense for larger scale school-level or community-level games.)

Group or Community

How does the game enable real-world action or outcomes that could occur only when the designer/facilitator and player/citizen come together in a shared process?

Develop the Game

Identify the playable components to help fill the gap between the problem and the desired actions.

Design It

Games benefit from several rounds of feedback and revision based on user experiences. You should begin pilot testing with game creators and other members of the school community as soon as you have designed a version of the game.

Here are some guiding design questions:

  • What is the ultimate goal of the game?
  • Who is the player?
  • What is a turn, and what are the actions within each turn, e.g., rolling a die, negotiating with other players? (These actions are often called mechanics.)
  • What are the obstacles?
  • What is the desired feedback/input from the players? (What do you want to learn from them?)

Online play can enhance a game’s reach by creating an “anytime, anywhere” experience for players, and by compiling large amounts of user-generated data (images, videos, sound files, mapping data, player demographic data) in one virtual location. Games that are largely face-to-face can still incorporate online experience through focused activities, such as researching an issue online or designing game materials using digital media applications.

Reach Out

As students test their games it’s a good idea for them to recruit players from in the school and larger community. While students are key designers and players, the most impactful engagement games draw a diverse group of stakeholders, including administrators, family members, teachers, and other community members. The most effective approach combines face-to-face contact and outreach via social media.

Dive In

Choose game moderators, such as a teacher, or the students who created the game. These players will likely participate, but they will also reflect on the game experience with an eye toward future revisions. Moderators should be on the lookout for emergent behaviors (player actions and patterns that were not part of the design). These can be more informative and valuable than intended outcomes.

Debrief

Debriefing is just as important as game design and play. In the debrief, players come together to reflect on their experience, consolidate their learning, and consider next steps. Reflection questions include: What moments in the game were particularly challenging, suspenseful, or surprising and illuminating? What patterns did you notice among player responses? Did the game mechanics work as intended, and would you change anything next time? What did you learn from the other players’ input, and how can we apply this to the problem or issue that motivated game creation in the first place? “Next step” questions include: Who else can we talk to? What actions will we take within our school community?

The debrief reinforces a number of academic skills used in game creation and play, especially thinking systemically, making arguments, analyzing diverse perspectives, finding patterns in data, and solving problems creatively and collaboratively.

Engagement Games & The Common Core

Engagement games are terrific tools for bridging formal and informal learning and creating broader social impact. They thrive on diverse perspectives, collaborative problem-solving, and well reasoned arguments. As new ideas and complications arise over the course of the game, players must constantly adapt their strategies. Online activities and digital media can broaden a game’s reach and give students practice using tech tools to communicate with and mobilize their school communities. Engagement games require players to communicate, empathize, understand ideas, perceive patterns, and take action. These skills and habits of mind prepare students for success in the global 21st century and are at the heart of the Common Core State Standards.

Language Arts

Designing and playing games demands that students comprehend and analyze writing, communicate clearly, collaborate successfully, and think imaginatively. All games require a clearly articulated set of rules and narrative structure in order to enable play. Engagement games, in particular, often produce new information that can be put to good use only through deliberation and reasoned arguments

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Developing a game environment and mechanics requires consideration of diverse user experiences and perspective. Games also work as a complex system, where a given action may have unintended consequences, so games require multiple designers to think through these scenarios. Finally, by fusing a sense of play with serious processes regarding community issues, engagement games encourage players/students to reflect and learn in the context of larger civic and social processes. Players also come to understand their own agency in influencing relevant issues, processes, and more.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Engagement games can present information in diverse formats, e.g., maps, videos, graphics, news articles, spoken word, and movement. Players are encouraged to reflect on these new perspectives and determine what information is relevant to completing the challenges and what collaboration allows them to advance.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
Research is important in designing a successful engagement game and in analyzing the data collected at the game’s end. Students can use this information to shape their arguments in policy papers or community briefs that they may present—in a culminating activity—to local organizations, elected officials, or other bodies with civic clout.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Since engagement games are designed to create real-world action, game responses must be meaningful to other players and to those who will use the data when the game ends. This target audience includes other players who have been galvanized by the game as well as advocacy groups and public officials.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.                 After one has identified the problem to be tackled, one of the most basic elements of game creation is setting forth the game narrative in a manner that generates interest for the players, teaches them how to play skillfully within the game mechanics, and provides greater context and depth of information about the topic at hand.

Math

Through the various stages of designing and playing engagement games, students engage in the dispositions encouraged by the Standards for Mathematical Practice:

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
Engagement games all begin with a common goal – creating a playful way for people to engage with a “problem.” Whether the problem is a lack of empathy among residents of a neighborhood or the need to educate volunteers at anti-poverty organizations, game design requires a thorough understanding of the problem itself. Students “analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals” when researching the problem, developing the game narrative and mechanics, and testing out different possible game structures.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
Engagement games require players to consider input from multiple sources and compare other perspectives to their own. Observing this kind of interaction among players of the game will also be of instructional benefit to those not yet as adept at this mode of communication and rhetoric. Finally, writing policy papers or community briefs, or working through case studies based on the data that emerges from the game, gives students the opportunity to practice the skills of making sound arguments and providing rational critique.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP5 Use appropriate tools strategically.
A key element of designing a successful engagement game is making use of the best possible tools for conveying background information and resources throughout the course of the game’s challenges. When creating and playing the game, students are expected to deploy the right kind of information gathering (be it from graphs and other documents provided within the game, interviews, online research, etc.) in order to answer questions thoroughly.

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP7 Look for and make use of structure.
Engagement games are based on real-world problems. Engagement game designers need to think systemically to first identify the structures in place that reinforce certain problems and then create a game narrative and game mechanics that expose those patterns. As players, students will need to adapt to the flow of the game’s structure, mastering each level of play and the challenges or obstacles set forth in order to complete (or win) the game.

Project Example: Community PlanIt - Life Online

School Name | Augustus Hawkins High School
Location | Los Angeles
Total Time | 7 weeks
Subjects | Geography, AP History, Civics, Digital Media
Grade Level | 9-12
Number of Participants | 430 players, including 380 youth

Impact

Community PlanIt is a mission-based game that makes planning playful. It uses an interactive, digital platform that allows players to answer challenge questions about their experiences in their community. Players earn points by completing challenges and can translate these points into real-world funding for local causes. Causes are supported by local fundraising, and the game is supported by local outreach to recruit players and share data from the game with the public as well as key decision-makers. Each instance of the game is customized to a local environment or particular topic.

The student, teacher, and administrator players at Augustus Hawkins participated in a school-wide conversation about social media for academic learning, in students’ social lives, and in school policy. The players began to see each other as potential partners for crafting school policy and using media to create new learning opportunities.

Process

Select

During a conversation about future Community PlanIt games in schools, a group of teachers and Community PlanIt staff realized that schools were wrestling not only with restrictive media access policies but with a great deal of uncertainty about the potential of social media for education.

Investigate

Educators wanted a chance to step back from fear-based or single-issue concerns to engage in a larger conversation about social media’s power in their students’ lives and its educational potential.

Identify the actions

  • Game Designer/Facilitator | The school learns about its community’s experiences of social media and sparks conversations about difficult topics, ranging from privacy and to online collaboration to the digital divide.
  • Player/Citizen | Parent, student, teacher, and administrator players learn new perspectives on the issues and make their voices heard.
  • Group or Community | The community engages in collaborative conversation and problem solving. This is based on the data produced during the game, the learning done by the players, and the trust cultivated by playing the game together.

Design it

Community PlanIt staff worked with educators and students to develop and pilot test game content about the role of social media in students’ social lives and their academic learning opportunities, as well as school and district-level social media policies. The game was populated with videos of students talking about their own experience of social media.

Reach out

The staff of Augustus Hawkins High School felt that Community PlanIt could enrich their focus on design thinking. The staff committed to bringing all the ninth grade students into the game through the school’s required Geography class.

Dive in

The game was woven into the curriculum of the Geography class, which seeks to engage youth in participatory action research in their own communities. The class draws on GIS mapping technologies, web 2.0 and film media, and a critical and participatory understanding of public policy. The game’s critical engagement with technology also positioned the students to answer an AP US History exam question about internet privacy.

Debrief

The game concluded with a school-wide Finale Event at which players reviewed the game data, and administrators made a public commitment to partner with students in developing the school’s social media policies and practices. Player responses during the game and at the debrief have sparked Community PlanIt staff to make modifications to some game questions for the future.

Project Example: Pack That Bag!

School Name | Warren Prescott School
Location | Boston
Total Time | 3 months
Subjects | Social Studies, Civics
Grade Level | 5-8
Number of Participants | 4 college student game designers and 40 players, including 20 middle school youth

Impact

The game presents the hypothetical scenario of evacuation due to an alien invasion. Players collect items to put in a bag to prepare for evacuation, trade these items with other players, and use these items to respond to new scenarios. The player responding effectively to the greatest number of scenarios wins.

The players practiced their role as family and community leaders who make informed decisions about what to pack in disaster preparedness kits and how to navigate disaster scenarios.

Process

Select

The Boston Public Health Commission approached the Emerson College Games for Social Change class to collaborate on a game focused on disaster preparedness that would complement and enliven more traditional trainings.

Investigate

One element of preparedness was ensuring that youth understand what to do in case of an evacuation, particularly how to compile supplies that will help them navigate challenges away from home. Over the course of six weeks, students in Emerson College’s Games for Social Change class researched the Boston Public Health Commission, reviewed their materials, and met with their staff to understand about the learning goals for youth audiences.

Identify the actions

  • Game Designer/Facilitator | Boston Public Health Commission brings the potential of evacuation to life in a memorable way for youth.
  • Player/Citizen | Youth gain knowledge and confidence regarding preparation for an evacuation.
  • Group or Community | Youth learn to rely on each other for insights about how to handle new challenges and prepare ahead of time. Youth become leaders in helping their schools, families, and communities to become prepared.

Design it

The Emerson students brainstormed, prototyped, and play-tested different versions of the game before reaching the final version. They decided to use the scenario of an alien invasion, which would be engaging without evoking potential trauma from real disasters. They also created a physical component to engage younger audiences: As players respond effectively or ineffectively to new scenarios, they move forward or backward along a grid on the floor until the winning player reaches the far end.

Reach out

Emerson College and the Boston Public Health Commission already have large audiences in the Boston area. They focused on Boston Public School students and game enthusiasts at the College.

Dive in

The Emerson students who designed the game went with the Commission to test it out at the Warren Prescott School in Charlestown, where they found it accessible and engaging to elementary and middle school students. The game was also tested with a group of adults affiliated with the College, who enjoyed the game as much as the elementary students.

Debrief

The debrief with students confirmed the game’s appeal to an early adolescent audience. Future pilots with high school students may lead to making scenarios more complex and modifying the set of potential items to pack. During the debrief at Emerson, players suggested that this game was engaging and versatile enough to be adapted to wide range of content, such as: teachers or students getting ready for a new school year; students in social studies or ELA imagining themselves inhabiting a different place or time; students in science class imagining themselves facing the consequences of natural disaster; students in a health class thinking through the realities of early parenthood.

Project Example: UpRiver

School Name | Warren Prescott School
Location | Boston
Total Time | 3 months
Subjects | Social Studies, Civics
Grade Level | 5-8
Number of Participants | 4 college student game designers and 40 players, including 20 middle school youth

Impact

The game presents the hypothetical scenario of evacuation due to an alien invasion. Players collect items to put in a bag to prepare for evacuation, trade these items with other players, and use these items to respond to new scenarios. The player responding effectively to the greatest number of scenarios wins.

The players practiced their role as family and community leaders who make informed decisions about what to pack in disaster preparedness kits and how to navigate disaster scenarios.

Process

Select

The Boston Public Health Commission approached the Emerson College Games for Social Change class to collaborate on a game focused on disaster preparedness that would complement and enliven more traditional trainings.

Investigate

One element of preparedness was ensuring that youth understand what to do in case of an evacuation, particularly how to compile supplies that will help them navigate challenges away from home. Over the course of six weeks, students in Emerson College’s Games for Social Change class researched the Boston Public Health Commission, reviewed their materials, and met with their staff to understand about the learning goals for youth audiences.

Identify the actions

  • Game Designer/Facilitator | Boston Public Health Commission brings the potential of evacuation to life in a memorable way for youth.
  • Player/Citizen | Youth gain knowledge and confidence regarding preparation for an evacuation.
  • Group or Community | Youth learn to rely on each other for insights about how to handle new challenges and prepare ahead of time. Youth become leaders in helping their schools, families, and communities to become prepared.

Design it

The Emerson students brainstormed, prototyped, and play-tested different versions of the game before reaching the final version. They decided to use the scenario of an alien invasion, which would be engaging without evoking potential trauma from real disasters. They also created a physical component to engage younger audiences: As players respond effectively or ineffectively to new scenarios, they move forward or backward along a grid on the floor until the winning player reaches the far end.

Reach out

Emerson College and the Boston Public Health Commission already have large audiences in the Boston area. They focused on Boston Public School students and game enthusiasts at the College.

Dive in

The Emerson students who designed the game went with the Commission to test it out at the Warren Prescott School in Charlestown, where they found it accessible and engaging to elementary and middle school students. The game was also tested with a group of adults affiliated with the College, who enjoyed the game as much as the elementary students.

Debrief

The debrief with students confirmed the game’s appeal to an early adolescent audience. Future pilots with high school students may lead to making scenarios more complex and modifying the set of potential items to pack. During the debrief at Emerson, players suggested that this game was engaging and versatile enough to be adapted to wide range of content, such as: teachers or students getting ready for a new school year; students in social studies or ELA imagining themselves inhabiting a different place or time; students in science class imagining themselves facing the consequences of natural disaster; students in a health class thinking through the realities of early parenthood.

Next: 2. Get Started

Planning Engagement Games

A successful engagement game is based on an understanding of your school community’s needs and draws clear connections to core academic content. It is accessible to different stakeholders and open to future modification. It builds on relationships with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other community members. Here are some tips to help you develop an effective game:

Explore the Need

Create opportunity

Engagement games can enrich existing civic processes and enable new ones. Choose a process that isn’t happening or a process that could be better implemented in your community. For example, UpRiver uses the mechanics of placing bets to help players understand floods as predictable and incentivizes them to collect local data on water levels. In Pack That Bag, students problem-solve in hypothetical disaster scenarios to learn how to pack their family’s evacuation bag strategically. In Defense Against the Dark Arts of Bullying, players build social emotional skills by comparing, discussing, and selecting different responses to bullying scenarios.

Set realistic goals

Engagement games do not replace the hard work of choosing among competing priorities, delegating complex decisions to individuals or small groups, or taking further action when the game ends. What they do is engage more stakeholders in thinking about the issue, sharing their perspectives, and learning from each other. This may ultimately shape the core process, or even create one that didn’t exist before.

Integrate your engagement game into academic coursework

Engagement games can ground academic learning in a playful approach to real-world problems. Games like Community PlanIt: Life Online or @Stake are not organized around a specific piece of grade level content; instead, they could complement, enrich, and motivate inquiry into a range of issues. Life Online, for example, bridges between the study of internet privacy, school social media policy, teachers’ use of web 2.0 tools, and students’ social lives online. It can serve as fodder for classroom debate and writing assignments, teacher curricular planning, and family conversations about social media use. @Stake can address challenging issues of culture or planning at the classroom, school, or community level, as well as particular academic topics by helping students role-play through scenarios about political issues or historical topics they are studying.

The journey, not the destination

An engagement game that is fun and useful for a broad audience is ideal, but don’t worry if your first attempt at an engagement game doesn’t produce a product ready for prime time. Students will learn a great deal from the process of creating their game: researching local issues, considering multiple perspectives, thinking through player actions within the game system, and reflecting on the experience afterward. The many opportunities within the design process for students to infuse the game with their unique perspectives and personal experience means that students can develop a sense of ownership and investment in the process.

Create playful engagement, not gamification

Gamification is typically used to incentivize an existing set of activities, e.g., awarding students points for contributions to class discussion, or awarding employees badges for completing training modules. Gamified systems are typically designed to maximize efficiency and have a single pathway to success, e.g., make a comment in class, complete the training modules, and are designed to foster mainly healthy competition among players. In contrast, engagement games incorporate unpredictability, offer players multiple pathways to success, and incorporate competition and cooperation. In @Stake, for example, players compete to win the group’s vote for their solution but are more likely to win when their solution (cooperatively) appeals to other players’ agendas. Players who try to satisfy more agenda items find that this makes it harder to develop a realistic solution.

Develop the Game

The most popular games are easy to learn and hard to master

These games have simple rules that are easy to learn and give players plenty of choice, but the complexity of the game emerges over time and requires strategy and skill. People are drawn to play them again and again.

Consider your options

If you’re building a game from scratch, rather than adapting an existing game, you’ll have plenty of choices to make: How many players do you want it to support? How long should the game last? What is the central goal and tension of the game? In @Stake, the goal is to create a plan that satisfies your stakeholder agenda, and the central players are awarded points for doing this. One of the secondary mechanics that makes this more challenging is that different stakeholders have different and sometimes competing interests. How will you incorporate the theme of your game into its design? Community PlanIt, a game about local planning, uses cartoon characters called Crats, frog-like creatures dressed in suits who stand in for city bureaucrats and push the player to become more knowledgeable about the issue at hand.

Combine analog and digital

Both UpRiver and Community PlanIt benefit from a combination of face-to-face, or analogue, and digital media. Digital media are terrific for anytime, anywhere play, collecting lots of information in one virtual location, and for weaving together video, images, sound, and text. Face-to-face interactions help attract players, connect play to local social identities, and integrate the game with the face-to-face decision-making at the heart of so much civic life.

You’re never really done revising

Games are flexible systems, and they are full of trade-offs. In order to reward some player choices, you end up discouraging others. As a given game is played in new situations, you may want to change the mechanics or themes. For example, the scenarios in @Stake can be written with content about planning in many different kinds of communities.

Engage the Community

Partnership begins on day one

Community engagement happens from the inception of the engagement game and continues throughout the planning and development process. This kind of participation helps create a game that not only resonates with a broad group of players but is organized around the community’s needs, as well.

There is no substitute for good outreach

Without good outreach, it is hard for larger engagement games to create meaningful impact. Particularly for games that aim to attract a broad cross section of community members, game creators should use social media, face-to-face conversations, planned events, canvassing, mailing lists, flyers, posters, radio, and community television, for example. Young people can be particularly effective at reaching their peers through social media. The culmination of a good outreach process may include events to encourage sign-up and game play that piggyback on existing community events.

Resources to Help You Plan

Now that you have a sense of how to ground your engagement games in local needs and move through a rich game development process, the following tools will help you plan your project:

Keep it in perspective

Maintaining a sense of the “big picture” will help guide your efforts to develop an engagement game.

Follow the Process

These process guides can help organize your workflow and focus your thinking as you move through the various stages of the engagement games process described in the understanding section, above.

Assessment

Civic engagement is not a one-time event but a long-term relationship between the overlapping groups of players, game creators, and local decision-makers. While games need time limits to maintain tension and ensure focused play, the game’s impact should continue to develop even after the game is over.

Assessment of the process and long-term impact can take many forms, both formal and informal: observation of people playing the game (e.g., in @Stake), qualitative analysis of comments posted online (e.g., in Community PlanIt), quantitative analysis of data points and averages (e.g., UpRiver’s aggregated data about local water levels), and analysis of post-game activity (i.e., what kinds of school and community decisions were made as a result of playing this game?).

Assessment Tips

Engagement games set in motion a process at the classroom, school, and larger school community level. Assessment occurs at all these levels, but teachers are best equipped to watch and support their students’ role in this larger process. Assessment covers reflection on game play, use of data, and creation of habits and partnerships that last over the long term. The following tips support the development of effective assessment criteria:

Learn from unanticipated player actions

Players and designers, in particular, should be on the lookout for player actions that were not anticipated by the design. For example, players in UpRiver were initially given data about water levels in terms of time-distances, such as “three days away.” Players soon began to frame their predictions in terms of local villages at the specified distances. Future versions of the game incorporated this pattern by giving all distances in terms of local villages. While students naturally focus on the excitement of the unfolding game, the teacher can help students step back and reflect on game play and player behaviors by asking students to compare their expectations to what they have observed.

Create participatory assessment by design

Assessment is most useful when it is highly participatory, rather than something that happens behind closed doors. Your games can be designed to generate data that is accessible and actionable. For example, Community PlanIt records player priorities on a public website, and @Stake requires players to consider, build upon, and make decisions about each other’s solutions, thereby creating a shared, actionable knowledge base.

Work toward long-term impact

A good engagement game gives players practice performing the kinds of actions you want them to perform in the community, creates useful insights about addressing community needs, and builds working relationships between different stakeholders, including those with the power to allocate resources and make decisions for the group. Teachers can assess whether students have practiced the kinds of civic behaviors, such as collaborative decision-making, action on a local issue, and building relationships with other stakeholders, such as teachers and other community members. Ensuring that future work is built on the foundation of insights generated requires commitment to continue investing resources in long-term collaboration from the different stakeholders, including decision-makers, community organizations, and other players.

Assessment Tools

Now that you have a sense of some points to guide the assessment process, the following tools will help you carry out your assessments of students’ learning and the project’s impact on the school community:

Reflect on your process

The process guides in the planning section of this toolkit also include a consistent rubric, which follows the Explore, Develop, and Debrief stages. The rubric can be used by a teacher to assess students and by students for self-assessment. It describes criteria for evaluating the way team members interact with each other, organize work, and present their content to the larger class and their teachers. Students and teachers can use it as a formative assessment–a tool for reflection while working–or as a summative assessment used at the end of each stage. Its consistency across the entire process means that evaluation at the end of one stage can also be formative for the following stage. For example, if students struggled with clear and logical presentation of their research in the Explore stage, they can work with their peers and teachers to make a stronger presentation of their play testing results in the Develop stage.

Here are questions to guide the summative/cumulative assessment of your engagement games:

To what extent do players have greater understanding of the identified problem?
Different players will come away with different learning based on their background and play experience, but the game should challenge all players to consider multiple perspectives and competing priorities.

Are people talking more about the issues and attempting to reach consensus on problems? Is there more collaboration amongst disparate groups? (Collaboration)
Successful engagement games foster individual insights and real collaboration, which requires shared understandings.

Are people sharing knowledge with each other to increase their capacity to act collectively? Now that relationships have been fostered, are local stakeholders able to “put the rubber to the road” and make a lasting impact on their collective situation? (Collective action)
Lasting impact requires collective mobilization.

Are there observable, verifiable actions during gameplay that create change in the real world? Do players make real-world decisions, build their local reputation, or fund local causes, for example? (Game play to real world)

Is there more or better data about a particular issue that can be analyzed, reviewed, or otherwise factored into a decision? (Data)
Collecting good data about people’s experiences can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. Engagement games create a playful, and reflective alternative to traditional survey and interview methods.

Next: 3. Train Your Peers

Host a Teacher Workshop

Teachers are instrumental in sharing and spreading best practices and innovative strategies to other teachers. Once you’re confident in your conceptual and practical grasp of engagement games, share your knowledge and expertise with others.

The downloadable presentation decks below (PowerPoint) are adaptable tools for helping you train other teachers interested in the engagement games process.

Getting Started with Engagement Games (PPT)
A presentation deck for introducing educators to the engagment games process during a 90-minute peer workshop.

Dig Deeper with Engagement Games – Half day (PPT)
A presentation deck for training educators on the engagment games process during a half-day peer workshop.

Dig Deeper with Engagement Games – Full day (PPT)
A presentation deck for training educators on the engagment games process during a full day peer workshop.

Next: 4. Related Links

Related Links

The Engagement Games Guidebook

This free guidebook helps educators, planners, and community leaders design, play, and assess engagement games. The Guidebook is created by the Engagement Game Lab, which designs and studies playful approaches to civic engagement.

Title: The Engagement Games Guidebook (PDF)
Type: Guidebook/article
Source: Engagement Lab

Quest Schools

These schools use game design principles to build each semester around a series of increasingly complex challenges or quests, where learning, knowledge sharing, feedback, reflection and next steps emerge as a natural function of play. Quest Schools is an initiative of the Institute of Play, a partnership between game developers, educators, and researchers to create learning experiences that are rooted in game design principles, simulate real world problems, and require dynamic, well-rounded solutions.

Title: Quest Schools
Type: Website
Source: Institute of Play

GlassLab

The GlassLab is creating original games and modes of existing commercially successful games (like SimCity), all aligned to the Common Core State Standards and designed to support the acquisition of critical 21st century skills.

Title: GlassLab
Type: Website
Source: Institute of Play

Games for Change

Games for Change facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts.

Title: Games for Change
Type: Website
Source: Games for Change

Educade

Educade is a website that offers a vast library of free, ready to use lesson plans integrated with apps, games, and hands-on activities that align to the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. Search for lesson plans by grade level, subject matter, and technology type, ranging from high-tech to low-tech to no-tech. Educade is a project of GameDesk, an educational nonprofit that embeds academic content and assessment into a variety of play-based products and curricula.

Title: Educade
Type: Website
Source: GameDesk

Games for Change – Resources

Their resources include tools and software for making games, as well as a blog and online community.

Title: Games for Change
Type: Website
Source: Games for Change

Tilt Factor Games

TiltFactor is an applied research lab based at Dartmouth that makes games incorporating fundamental human values and psychological principles to promote learning, attitude change, and behavior change.

Title: Tilt Factor Games
Type: Website
Source: Tilt Factor

Tilt Factor: Values at Play

The Values at Play™ research initiative investigates how designers can be more intentional about the ways in which they integrate human values into their game-based systems. It includes a curriculum as well as game-making tools for designers.

Title: Values at Play
Type: Website
Source: Tilt Factor

The Rules of Play

Within pop culture, games are as important as film or television, but the emerging field of game design has yet to develop a theoretical framework or critical vocabulary. In Rules of Play, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman offer a unified model for looking at all kinds of games, from board games and sports to computer and video games.

Title: The Rules of Play
Type: Book
Source: Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman

Engagement Lab’s Research

Readers interested in a research-based approach to understanding the impact of the Engagement Lab’s first Community PlanIt game with Boston Public Schools may refer to the white paper, “Exploring new Modalities of Civic Engagement.”

Title: “Exploring new Modalities of Civic Engagement” (PDF)
Type: Article
Source: Jyoti Gupta, Jassica Bouvier, Eric Gordon