Chris Bell, a designer of the award-winning “Journey” (That Game Company), gave a presentation at the 2012 Game Developer Conference that is now online in the GDC Vault. Chris shared his observations about several online multiplayer games that are designed to bring people together. He cited language as a major barrier to building friendships online. Players who want to connect might not be able to because the designer didn’t account for language. Visible appearance might also be a barrier that keeps people from bonding over a shared interest. In the online world of avatars, people from various walks of life can alter their appearance and meet people they otherwise might not in the real world. Bell indicates that the goal of the designer in the online multiplayer experience is to create friendships before prejudice can take effect.
In the classroom, where players cannot hide behind an avatar, this design imperative is even more difficult to overcome. As instructors, we must design experiences that allow learners to identify each other through their academic affinities rather than their hairstyle. Rather than assigning learners to teams, we should let teams form naturally around affinities. Simple idea is to have learners write down their topic of interest on a piece of paper. The instructor can go through each topic in front of the class and ask students how topics should be grouped. After grouping, students congregate at various points in the room according to their affinity. There may be some drawbacks to this method, but the some of the advantages follow:
- This method splits up students who only cluster together because they are friends rather than sharing a common interest.
- It gives the group project some direction at the outset.
- It allows shy learners to express their opinions without being overshadowed by more dominating learners.
If you have an idea to improve upon this method or incorporate more game mechanics into the idea, please post in the comments!