Co-designing games in Education

At Playful Solutions we love facilitating playful exploration of topics and innovation through game design. Which is easier said than done, but also a reason why we design and manage game jams, particularly with people who have zero experience in creating games. We help participants form teams, rapidly prototype game designs and come up with ideas for a specific theme with given restraints. The brief time span is meant to encourage creative thinking, experimental and innovative ideas – which never cease to surprise us.

why game jams?

We believe that, in today’s world, education needs more prototyping.

By designing a game prototype or even a fully-fledged game, participants can delve deeply into a topic with educational value. And this represents not only a learning opportunity for the game jammers. The ideas and solutions they come up with by designing games also enrichen the field in which the topic is grounded in.

In most educational subjects we find there is a lack of interactive and creative materials; games are just one such example. Furthermore, the minds of artists and designers such as our game jammers rarely latch on to these subjects in the first place, making the game jam the perfect door-opener to create interest around any theme.      

our project

One of the game jams we facilitated for students was the one developed for the “Evolution of Minerals” exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Vienna in May 2019. Using the model created for We Make Games, we grouped pupils with different backgrounds and launched them a mineral-themed challenge, which eventually brought 4 different games to light.  

The goal: a digital game for the museum’s digital exhibition

  • Transforming the learning contents of the museum’s exhibition into an entertaining and up-to-date medium
  • Bottom-up approach: Pupils develop their own teaching materials

The setup: 5 days Game Jam

  • Pupils of various specializations and classes of HTL Spengergasse and Graphischen
  • Facilitation by Playful Solutions & support by Mi’pu’mi Games, content expertise from NHM faculty

The result: 100% success rate

  • 4 digital games with learning content on minerals (earth phases, mineral diversity, mining & processing, museum navigation)

The 4 games can now be played on the museum’s website

Pupils working in teams to design mineral-themed games during the game jam week at Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, May 2019.

in their words

Dr. Susanne Mayrhofer – Exhibition & Education @ NHM:

We wanted to provide an introduction to the world of minerals and to convey the connection between the development of life and the development of minerals.

The goal of the Game Jam at the NHM Vienna was, on the one hand, the participation of pupils in scientific dialogue and, on the other, the testing of their own abilities and their interest in working in a massively growing industry – the video game industry.

Pupils:

I have experienced how teamwork works. Managing to-do lists and communicating the results, the importance of talking in general, no matter how stupid the thoughts might seem at the beginning.

I got to learn a lot of new programs and got tips from other students and experts.

Now I have a better idea of what it means to work with different people.

It’s actually a lot of fun to have so many things to do!

lessons learned

We learned that Game Jams are a win win. Participants win knowledge in an otherwise potentially eluded subject, while experts win new perspectives of looking at a problem.

We are looking to bring more such opportunities to the youth, especially in an educational framework.

Co-designing games in Education

workshop exercises by Playful Solutions

We like to transform team exercises and workshops into engaging and playful experiences. This blog-series will give insights into new team activities used in companies wanting to provide something fresh and new to their colleagues and employees.


what’s the Puzzle Dinner about?

Simply enjoying a nice and engaging evening with colleagues – by cooking!
We love this exercise because it’s a perfect opportunity to get to know workmates. How? By cooking their favorite dishes. Everyone can take part in this – but we advise caution if you have never used a kitchen before.


what’s so fun about that?

The fun part is not the food fight. It’s finding out what the other team would like to eat for dinner. All teams need to pay attention to the hints of others in order to solve the puzzle and serve their favorite meal!

Download the Playbook.

It was all tested by Playful Solutions and approved to be fun. May contain traces of sesame or nuts.

The Puzzle Dinner

Introducing the Throwback Thursday series: projects we are proud of but never had the chance to share our insights with the world.

We start with one of our dearests, most exciting, stressful and crazy events: the Red Bull Escape Room World Championship.

Some while ago, we designed the concept for this one of a kind global event. Together with Red Bull, we started with the first ever World Escape Room Championship in 2017. 

Season 1

“Mission: Unlock Enoch“ 2017 was the first event where escape room enthusiasts from all over the world teamed up, combined their mind skills and compared their results on a national and international level. It evolved from a global online single-player game, through multiplayer real-world Qualifier events to an exciting final Escape Room Tournament in Budapest, Hungary.

“Mission: Unlock Enoch“ was born with the purpose to provide a competitive challenge for the best masterminds out there. The first Escape Room championship was conceived at a game jam hosted at the MIT Game Lab in Massachusetts and made possible by Playful Solutions, Dr. Scott Nicholson and Fox in a Box.

Season 2

In 2019, we have conceived and organized the second edition of the Red Bull Escape Room World Championship, with qualifiers in more than 20 countries and with an outstanding Finals event in London between April 11-13th.

We continued to work with important figures in the field, such as escape room guru Dr. Scott Nicholson, puzzle designer Wei-Hwa Chang, player experience expert Ken Ferguson, the Scottish team from Escape Game Design and many more.

A glimpse of the final event in a few numbers:

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88 players

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10+ Hours Of Play

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22 teams

In order to challenge the best escape room players in the world, we had to make sure we design rooms that tested all their mind skills. An extra challenge this year was to make sure we remove any cultural or language barriers in our puzzles.

If you are curious to have a peek into the rooms we designed and built, you can check this quick runthrough with Prof. Scott Nicholson. For more highlights of the London event, enjoy your read here.

Behind the scenes

And if you are intrigued for a look behind the scenes, we share our 3 top insights after our London Escape Room affairs.

We loved
the energy!

We loved to experience this unique mix of physical room development, puzzle design and event management. To get to work with over 30 different staff members on a project with such a global scale provides a very special energy. And, finally, realising how hyped the top players were and how the games have proven to meet the tournament requirements, was just outstanding. It will not be easy for others to recreate an Escape Room World Championships that can live up to the standards we set with this year’s competition.

We learned
to break patterns

After running the first World Championship in Escape Room gaming in 2017, we took our learnings and adjusted not only the design of the rooms, the story and the point system, but also the run-down and the tournament structure. We were thus able to improve the communication with the players and the flow of the tournament. Our biggest lessons learned: running an escape room tournament with a series of smaller sub-rooms is a better solution than using one large room.

We want
to expand!

The team behind Playful Solutions & Red Bull Escape Room World Championship in Red Bull Gaming Sphere, London, 2019.

We would like to develop our new tournament concept and focus even more on the different mind skills and how to challenge them. We are also looking into developing escape rooms with specific content and technologies which we call „experience rooms“. Finally, we are thinking how to integrate existing escape rooms into the qualifier stage and broaden the player group. 

by the Playful Solutions team

Throwback Thursday: Escape Room Championship

Jane:                     

“It is a game, isn’t it, Mary Poppins?”

Mary Poppins:         

“Well, it depends on your point of view. You see,

In every job that must be done,

There is an element of fun.

You find the fun, and snap!

The job’s a game.

And every task you undertake

Becomes a piece of cake

A lark, a spree it’s very clear to see

That a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down

The medicine go down

Medicine go down …”

In the musical film “Mary Poppins” (1964) the nanny introduces the two kids – Jane and Michael Banks – to a technique how to transform a dreadful job into a joyful game. As she explains in her song “snap!”, medicine tastes so much better with tons of sugar. One could argue, that this is what serious games and gamification are all about – designing a spoonful of sugar and adding it to the “serious” content.

The approach to use games for serious and educational purposes reaches back to the roots of institutional forms of play (Locke 1989; Rousseau 1762; Fröbel 1826; Montessori 1909). The term “Serious Game” was introduced by Clark Abt (1970) in the 70ies, but made popular by the “Serious Game Initiative”, which coined it in 2002 (Wu 2008). Although we are lacking an established definition of “Serious Games”, Clark’s understanding of games aiming at “an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose” appears widely agreed on in a majority of studies and publications. From a game design perspective one could argue that these games are designed for a specific serious purpose beyond pure entertainment. This purpose can be described as the intention to design a playful environment that provides “serious” content, topics, narratives, rules and goals to foster a specific learning process. Serious games are intentionally designed to make the players engage with a particular matter to achieve a specific knowledge and to foster a change of their thinking and behavior.

Check full article to see if it will take more than a “snap” by Mary Poppins to fully use the potential and design an engaging solution to our educational challenges.

Author: Dr. Konstantin Mitgutsch, 2017

Original Article

why play?

We are the Playful Solutions team and we’re excited to welcome you to our digital playground. Here we’ll be sharing various updates from our work, our passions, our likes and discoveries, as well as some of our random thoughts.

Stay tuned to our playful frequency!