Two weeks ago our new Kodu narrative based metagame website, ‘Invasion of the Shadow Plague’ went live for the first time and, as Debbie Evans described it, it was a bit like giving birth! The Game Design team, spent months reading, researching, planning and designing an innovative way to integrate game design into teaching and learning that would be linked to curriculum outcomes across both primary and high school and provide an immersive experience for boys and girls from Year 3 to Year 10.

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Students are ‘heroes’ in the Invasion of the Shadow Plague metagame and, through completing nine missions (supported by a video library of around 140 short Kodu tutorials) and submitting nine mission reports, students design and build three Kodu games in which the players are the heroes. The metagame and games students build have strong literacy links, with students writing the remainder of the narrative, ‘Invasion of the Shadow Plague’ and transforming their narratives into three game levels:

Level 1: Rebuild and defend your nation from an attack by Wraiths.
Level 2: Seek out and collect the secret cure without getting spotted by the Wraiths who are guarding it.
Level 3: Cure the Wraith and return them to the good people they once were and defeat the Shadow Plague

The site has been built in an intense flurry of activity over the past month and, if it wasn’t for the incredible effort and sheer hard work of our MacICT ‘heroes’ including Concetta Gotlieb and our IT guru Roger Buck, who along with the Game Design team consisting of Anthony Fennell, Simon Hutchison and myself, have spent an extraordinary number of hours during week days, at nights and over weekends working on the site, ‘Invasion of the Shadow Plague’ would never have been born. Lyrian, MacICT’s Office Manager, also helped out with the design of our digital badges. Thank you so much guys for your heroic qualities including passion, commitment and perseverence. We are so glad that Concetta and Roger have awesome, secret abilities that allow you to find solutions or ‘work arounds’ to most problems at the blink of your eye (if only).

The site is still in beta form with more work to be done, but this hasn’t stopped two primary schools and three High Schools from piloting the project. Many thanks go to Cromer Public School, Gordon East Public School, The Forest High School, Woodenbong Central School and Deniliquin High School, for trialling the project. Nearly 600 students have embarked on missions in their quest to defeat the Shadow Plague through creating games in Kodu, submitting mission reports, commenting on other student blog posts and providing player tips, all the while earning badges as they level up.

We believe that the process of designing and building games provides students with an authentic context for effective learning using a constructivist approach. Students, keen to embrace the role of a game designer, move from merely consuming digital texts to creating them. They have the opportunity to combine their prior knowledge as gamers with their new understandings of good game design principles provided through the project. Conceptual risk taking is encouraged and rewarded and meaningful connections are made with learnings from other curriculum areas. This project provides opportunities for students to share their work with all schools participating in the project. So, through the process of designing and building games in the context of playing ‘The Invasion of the Shadow Plague’, the key 21st century skills of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication (I call these the 4 C’s) are addressed.

In the first 1½ weeks of the pilot, we had 549 blog posts to moderate and badges to award. You know you have done something right in the engagement department when you are met at school at 8:00am by a 10 year old primary student stating that she had submitted her mission report last night and could I please log on and give her the Spawn badge – now! Of course I had to comply. It is rewarding to see so many students buzzing with excitment around this project and parents saying how their children have insisted on downloading Kodu at home so they can play – and work on their missions. Now it’s time to go as I have worlds to build, wraith to cure, a Shadow Plague to defeat and blog posts to moderate.