Part 1: Game Design for Extension Audiences
Chal lenges for Extension in Game Design
Beginning with radio, then video, interactive media, and web delivery, Extension educators have embraced digital media to reach their clientele with research-based information. They have several options for development: Many land-grant institutions have professional-quality communications units that have the capacity to create most digital media. Though game development isn’t as common as video and digital publications, communications units are gradually increasing their capacity for games and app development. The Learning Games Lab at NMSU is one such professional games design studio within Extension, and collaborates with extension educators and faculty at other universities on almost all of their projects. The Learning Games Lab functions as a non-profit design and production studio for educational projects. As game development evolves as a career field, many design or computer science departments at universities include game design or programming as majors, and often engage in student-developed projects. These labs can provide an opportunity for Extension educators to collaborate on educational or transformational games . Consider that work in these types of environments is often completed by students — thus the work may have varying levels of quality, may not always be sustainable (as students graduate or move through finals). Talk with faculty in these labs to make sure your expectations meet the levels of quality student work can produce. Extension can also collaborate with game design companies , many of which are now engaged in developing games that are designed to change their users in meaningful ways: often called educational, learning, serious, or transformational games. Game development can be time-consuming and costly —it isn’t uncommon f or it to start at $80,000, and the cost can easily extend to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the extent of the game, distribution and marketing needs, and research or evaluation demands of the funders. Games have tremendous advantages over other types of media: They can customize learning for each user, provide meaningful feedback, offer safe failure and engaging play, and help players apply what they understand in a meaningful context. However, the cost of game development suggests that games should be used for content that cannot be taught as effectively any other way. An intentional, research-based effort can ensure that the money and time invested in game development are used effectively. One challenge for Extension educators can be taking their first steps as game developers or co-designers when they don’t have experience designing for this unique medium. Development of a complete game requires more than a good idea; it should include five key processes: a solid preparation process through which developers secure funding, assemble the team, and conduct initial research on the content and need (Schell, Chamberlin 2022); a design process to articulate and refine learning goals and activities; a development process in which the game is programmed, art assets are finalized, and extensive testing informs playability, interface, and engagement; a marketing and distribution process to deliver the game to users and support its implementation for years after development; and research processes throughout the entire cycle to inform development, test the product, and evaluate the game as an intervention.
Extension educators bring significant resources to the game design table: their research-based orientation serves them well in identifying the needs of their audience, refining content, and designing evaluation
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