We know that kids in middle school and high school have a great time going through our story-game making workshops. But we didn’t know how the methodology would transfer to people in different age groups and demographics. So on March 3, we tried something new: we got together with the Virtual Reality Association at the University of Washington and held a workshop for college students.
We found the experience enlightening for a number of reasons. First, the level of discourse hit a level we hadn’t seen in previous workshops. Second, it was clear that several students had spent time thinking about and studying our subject matter in the past. We based this workshop on previous carbon cycle workshops, but adjusted to focus on climate change to add further depth. “Having people with a strong background in climate change truly helped us make a credible experience,” said one participant. Third, the resulting story showed a depth of experience you won’t find among 9th graders, even if mermaids and racecars never entered this day’s conversation.
As we have in previous workshops, we used the following criteria for qualitative testing:
Can project-based experiences of virtual story-game making provide for full engagement of multiple intelligences and enhance team workflow management and creativity?
Based on responses from our participants, we were able to successfully fulfill these criteria. As one student noted, “Collaboration and teamwork were an incredibly important step to create an educational experience. Glad the team supported each other all the way through.” Another student, however, had mixed feelings when the group hit stumbling blocks, which we expect to happen through the process. “Collaboration of ideas was both help and a hindrance,” he told us.
Can project-based experiences of story-game making stimulate subject comprehension as well as critical thinking?
Prior to the workshop, we believed that discussion about the subject matter would be more in-depth than asking students to work on building up their research skills, as we have done in the past. The ensuing discussions and multiple directions the story took, all related to different aspects of climate change, showed the sophistication of the discourse. “The story-making component took us most of the time but that was the step that really defined our scope of the project,” was one response.
Can students turn subjects into games and produce an interactive product that can be experienced by their friends and family as an audience?
Yes, as the final story-game will show once the technical phase is complete. But getting to that point went more slowly than with younger groups. “We hit on an idea that resonated eventually,” said one participant, though another noted that a lot of their challenges related to how that resonance would affect future game players.
Would the activity be considered education or entertainment for the participant?
All but one saw story-game making as useful for education, “so long as you keep it relatable and evoke emotion,” as one student said. The one holdout actually wanted to see more choices in the process to make the experience more educational.
Comparisons to Previous Workshops
Comparatively speaking, we found a great number of similarities between the two age groups of participants. For example:
- The warm-up games really were successful in loosening up people’s inhibitions and attitudes.
- All of the students appreciated the license to be creative and throw out ideas, no matter how they might be received
- All of the students, no matter the age, felt committed to getting their story told and completing the effort.
But we also saw some crucial differences with the college students. For them, the process was:
- More abstract and less whimsical. Their story was creative but all of their characters, for example, were human. Overall the through process as they developed their stories was more cerebral.
- More subject-related. The college students used climate change as a jumping-off point rather than attempting to shoehorn the subject into the story, which we have seen with some groups previously.
- More serious. This may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, as college students do understand the potential ramifications of climate change, whereas the younger students may have touched on the subject but focused more on biology.
- More challenging in transitioning from subject matter to story—these students didn’t settle on their story until just before the recording/performance phase, whereas the younger students did have an easier time of letting the story flow organically.
- Easier to create bonds with one another, having (hopefully) shrugged off the innate inhibitions of adolescence
- Less layered. Some previous groups had created a back story for some characters, for example. This group may not have had the luxury due to a more compressed schedule.
- More able to recognize what elements need to go into a full story arc.
- Easier in the transition from writing the story to acting it out.
- More text-based. The older group’s story focused more on dialogue, and less on action and movement—the theater director had to remind them that a big part of the motion capture was to be in motion.
Comparisons to Our Methodology
As we compared the direction of the workshop to our methodology, we saw some divergence as well:
- Writers often approach stories from one of two directions: character-based or plot-based. Mysteries, for example, would be more difficult to write as character sketches because solving the murder is very much driven by plot. We attempted to direct the story from a character-based perspective, but the students gravitated naturally from plot to characters.
- We introduced the idea of a list of deliverables—script, background and object images, questions and answers for the game mechanic, for example—but the compressed timeframe showed this to be less successful than we hoped.
- Our methodology includes a section for genre, e.g., comedy, horror or mystery. We skipped that part, and, interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter.
- Though we expect to automate most of the steps of our process, it was clear that the story-making section needed outside direction. Much of that intervention was provided by our theater director.
- Overall, this workshop took about six hours to complete, not including a break for lunch. Half the students felt we had scheduled enough time to complete the workshop, but half felt we could have had more time to devote to the story-building.
Overall, we were excited about the enthusiasm of these students and the creativity and effort they put into completing their story-game.
We want to extend a special thank you to our partners in this effort: The Virtual Reality Association at the University of Washington, Motion Shadow for providing the motion capture tracking equipment and digitally recording the performances, and the CoMotion Maker Lab at the University of Washington for providing the VR headsets.