Game Review
Gamestar Mechanic

Captivating manga romp teaches kids game design

  • The Gamestar Mechanic home page.

  • Picking a class project in Gamestar Mechanic.

  • The teacher dashboard in Gamestar Mechanic.

  • Checking the goals and rules for a Gamestar Mechanic mission.

  • Playing through a maze mission in Gamestar Mechanic.

Quick Take
Pros: A tremendous amount of well-documented game design and pedagogical resources come for free, with premium content available to teachers and kids at a deep discount.
Cons: It allows for a lot of complexity in games but doesn't go into programming or past a handful of game genres.
Bottom Line: This terrific and affordable toolset teaches kids how to design games and shows teachers how to use games to teach.
Learning Scores
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Kids learn about games by designing their own games. When going on missions, they unlock a steady stream of content that deepens their workshop experience.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

The in-game and on-site documentation available to kids and teachers teaches lots about game design and invites classes to incorporate whatever content they can imagine.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 5

Clear goals always draw kids’ attention to what they should learn from each mission, and the learning guide offers dozens of conversationally written lessons to support teachers using Gamestar Mechanic.

Our Review
What's It Like?

Gamestar Mechanic is an online toolset, game, and community that teaches kids how to build games. It focuses on the art of visual design rather than on programming, as other game-making platforms, such as Scratch, do.

A series of manga cut-scenes and "missions" ask kids to play, fix, and make different kinds of games built around specific mechanics, like collecting points or jumping. As kids learn design, they unlock "sprites," or pieces, of the games they've mastered to use in their own game design workshops. Kids can share the games they've made with teachers and classmates, as well as the Gamestar Mechanic community, by publishing them to Game Alley.

Is It Good For Learning?

Overall, Gamestar Mechanic is one of the best-documented and approachable game-design tools available to kids and their teachers. It partners with a number of major players in the emerging Connected Learning movement (such as the MacArthur Foundation and the Mozilla Open Badges Initiative), and its blog routinely shares useful game-based learning resources.

Kids learn in creative ways and are encouraged to be creative themselves. For example, they can customize games with their own artwork. Directions are clear and easy to follow; creations are real and playable. Kids have to think both mathematically and creatively to build games. It's a rare game that allows kids to feel true ownership over their work; Gamestar Mechanic fits the bill. Also, learning goes outside the classroom, as accounts are non-transferrable but kids can access them from home.

How Can Teachers Use It?

Once they're registered, teachers and students can play missions, design games in the workshop, and share games. Teachers get management tools to see students' progress, track their work, assign projects, curate featured games, and manage class profiles from kids' workshops. During registration, you can decide whether or not to ask kids for real first and last names or to rely on usernames. You can also decide whether to unlock all available content at once or require students to play through missions and quests first, with the content as a reward.

Gamestar Mechanic Teachers is an online community that helps you learn to teach through games. It offers tutorials, materials, and lesson plans aligned to both game design and Common Core subjects. It features lessons from teacher-practitioners, which address both humanities and STEM content.

This review of Gamestar Mechanic was written by

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