An Introduction to Gameblox
For those interesting in exploring gamification in their courses, Gameblox can be a powerful free tool for getting started. So what is Gameblox?
Gameblox is a game editor that uses a block-based programming language to allow anyone, even those with limited programming knowledge, to make and share games. It is free and no downloads are required. Even better, games are playable both online on a computer and through an app on a mobile device.
The editor was created as part of a project by MIT Step Lab and is used in a number of edX’s MOOC courses on game design and development. While you can sign up and make a game from scratch, beginners will often have better luck working with an existing starter project or playing around with one of the games created and shared by other Gameblox users.
Using Gameblox: The Basics
Getting started with Gameblox is as simple as heading to the website. While it is a lot of fun to design your own games in Gameblox, you don’t have to do so to take advantage of the site. There are actually a number of pre-existing games created by other users and MIT itself. On the front page, you will be able to see Featured Games and Starter Projects, both of which can help you get up and running a little more quickly than making your own.
However, if you want to go all out and customize a game for your course (or help students to), you will need to sign up. In the past, to design games users needed to sign up for one of edX’s free courses on game design, but now anyone can create an account and start programming with the blocks. This makes it easier to access Gameblox, but those with the time an inclination to take one of the MOOCs should do so–it’s a great way to learn more about building educational games.
The best way to get started after making an account is to click on the Help icon at the top of the screen (the intricacies of game design are far too in-depth to get into here). There, you will find a series of tutorials that will take you through the basics of designing a game, as well as an explanation of the blocks, and a manual. Unless you are already an experienced programmer, you will likely need to reference all of these materials as you are starting out.
One the game design screen, you’ll find everything you need to customize a game to your own needs and wants. You can create special sprites or use existing ones, add as much or as little complexity in the blocks as you’d like, control how the game is timed, how users will interact with it, and much more. You can actually build a fair amount of complexity into a Gameblox game, but it will likely require some experimentation and practice to get the hang of it. Keep practicing and if you need help, ask for it on the forums or shoot an e-mail to the Gameblox team.
Once you’re happy with your game, give it a play. It will be stored to your account and you can access it any time you log on to the site. Even better, you can now share it with anyone you’d like (side note: while you can easily share the URL to play on a computer, students will need the game id and password to play on the app–these are found underneath the game’s title in the game editor).
How to Use Gameblox in Your Course
All of this is great, but it doesn’t help if you still aren’t sure how Gameblox can have a practical application in your course. Here are some ideas and a few places you can start:
Make basic tasks fun. Making basic things a little more exciting and rewarding, like reading the syllabus for example, can easily be accomplished by turning them into a game. Not only does it get students to do the work, it also makes them (one would hope) more excited about doing it.
Have students create their own course-related games. You don’t always have to be the one doing the programming. It can also be interesting to see what your students will come up with when tasked with creating a simple game. While not appropriate for all courses (some students may struggle with the programming aspects), it can be a more innovative way to test students on what they know and to want to share it with their friends. It can also serve as one option among others for students who may be interested.
Modify an existing lesson. There are lots of cool ways that you can modify your existing lessons to incorporate a game. MIT even offers some examples here but it can also be just as simple as using an existing game to illustrate a concept in your course. Here are some games to consider, that can be used as-is or easily modified to fit in a course.
Students try to create a mouse with the chosen characteristics by breeding mice in the game. It’s a great and fun introduction to the concepts of basic genetics.
Entry level coding courses can have a bit of fun by playing this game. Each level requires players to “catch” a certain type of HTML code.
This is one that would only require a bit of modification to be useful in a really wide range of courses. Currently, it challenges players on their knowledge of Portuguese, but it could be used to quiz on any language or any other subject.
This basic game brings to life a classic logic puzzle: how to get all animals safely across without any two killing each other. Additional levels of difficulty could be added, or the game could be modified for other content.
How many different marbles is it possible to make? How fast can you make them all? Can you predict how many marbles will belong in each area? In the intersection? Outside the Venn diagram?
Have you tried gamification in your course? Want to share your experiences? Email Christina at email@example.com