TEL: Constructive Gamification in the classroom

I often feel when talking about TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) that gamification is a style of learning that we all struggle to regularly find meaningful ways in which we can use games to enhance learning. I am a great believer in not just having technology for the sake of it and that if it doesn’t add anything to the lesson then don’t use it, but at the same time I do not doubt that we all feel, when used correctly, technology can be a great thing for teachers and learners.

Interactive fiction tells you the beginning of a story before putting you in charge of the future and letting you decide what your character should do. You make the choices which dictate the story’s outcome. In a learning environment this can be used to encourage students to research, to create a story relating to a subject and creating problems to be solved in a ‘basic’ computer programming environment. This involves game design and literacy skills (this is merely me scraping the iceberg) all whilst being fun and engaging.

Two colleagues of mine came accross Twine whilst at Bett 2015 and told me about it on their return, with the knowledge that another colleague was interested in using it within a lesson, I set about exploring what it had to offer.

The thought was for the students to use Twine to create a game based on a ‘Day in the Life of a Roman’. I began to use this as my test for Twine and the results were great.

DS 1

Twine (Twinery) lets you create a game with multiple scenarios, options and endings. Each player can make their own version of their story using the game that you create as they proceed. The interface is user-friendly, self explanatory and generally easy to use. There are a couple of tutorial videos and some example Twines available which is always nice when you are trying something completely new. Although coming from a programming background would be an advantage in creating something extra special, users from all levels can make something good while developing some basic programming skills.

Twinery can be downloaded but can also be used as a web based tool which is great in my opinion as it can be used on almost all platforms as long as you have an Internet connection. There is no sign-up necessary, but if you do choose to sign-up then there is no cost. When it comes to saving your work, Twinery saves to your browser as a standard, which I wouldn’t find particularly useful in the classroom setting. It can also be downloaded which would be best as it can then be moved and taken with you wherever you choose.

After creating what I felt was a decent basic game, I was looking to ‘jazz it up’ a bit with some pictures, sounds and general formatting which I felt the students would be looking forward to doing, but found that there were many bugs which prevented me from gaining full functionality from this side of things. This left me feeling a little let down and even though I do think Twinery is great, I set about searching for alternatives which would let me further personalise my game in this way.

When searching I came across InkleWriter, it is very similar to Twinery as it is easy to use, web based and free, so I began to explore further.

DS 2

At first sight I felt it may be lacking a little bit, as it looked very basic, but after further inspection I started to like its simple structure and friendly user interface and ended up quickly creating the same as I had in Twinery. The story book view as well as the map view really helps keep it in perspective and shows the flow of it all a little better. I then began to look into ‘jazzing it up’ as this is where I fell flat using Twinery.

With InkleWriter inserting media, using italics and bold formatting to make parts stand out couldn’t be easier. Copying and pasting web links into the game, inserts media and this makes it a lot easier to personalise which I feel is important.

There is a contents section which allows the user to keep track of what has been done and to jump between the different branches of the game. This really helps to keep things connected. There are loose end warning, so if you create an option but do not expand on it, the warning lets you know you have forgotten to link that part which really helps when the game begins to get really intricate. Markers are another great InkleWriter tool. These allow your stories to rejoin but only giving options for future moves depending on what markers you have set previously, this is shown as an IF function.

On the other end of the spectrum there is a developer version of InkleWriter where you can really turn your game into something truly special. Some of the apps which have been developed from ink writer have won international gaming awards, so you can imagine the sort of standard which is possible to reach using it.

Another suggestion to try is >Playfic_ and although fundamentally this has the same basics as the other two it lacks in functionality and to be frank the interface is pretty dull and uninspiring. The personalisation factor is completely lacking and unlike Twinery this isn’t because of bugs but merely down to the fact that the feature isn’t available.

DS 3

In my opinion Playfic isn’t really a contender with either Twinery or InkleWriter. Twinery has the potential to be great if some of the many bugs that I encountered are fixed and currently out on top for me is InkleWriter which is already pretty awesome! Some points I have raised with the developers are that I would like different themes to become available within the basic set-up of InkleWriter rather than just the scrolling book; this can be done in the developer mode but without that knowledge at the moment it is impossible without help.

Here are the links to the Authoring Systems mentioned:

http://twinery.org/

https://writer.inklestudios.com/

http://playfic.com/

Please post any comments you have of your experiences and maybe links to some Interactive fiction games you create so that we can all share and develop ideas.

Below is a link to my InkleWriter

A day in the Life of a Roman game:

http://writer.inklestudios.com/stories/8mfj

Note:

Since writing this blog post I have done some further research and the reasoning behind concentrating on these three ‘Authoring Systems’ is that they are readily available online and do not require any download or signing up to use (although signing up does unlock some extra features such as sharing capabilities). This means their accessibility is endless and the students can pick up their project at anytime, anyplace which is an extremely desirable characteristic for any resource in today’s modern learning environment. The most commonly used and talked about systems on the internet seem to be: ADRIFT, Alan, Hugo, Inform, Quest, TADS, ThinBASIC Adventure Builder, RAGS and DreamPath. I have tested these alternative authoring systems and there is possibly another blog post to follow in the future.

As a general overview I would use Twinery and InkleWrite over all of these anyway mostly due to all of the same reasons as mentioned in this blog post.

Daniel Shahin @DanielShahin 
Educational Technologist @DHSB
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