About a week before starting this blog, I started making an RPG with RPG Maker. The intention of the game was to give my English-studying junior high school students something to use their English with outside of school. Of course, I prefer they play the multitude of games available on the internet, but having more options doesn’t hurt.
I don’t have high expectations of success. Of the 36 junior high school students I teach (I live in a small town), I’ll be happy if 2-3 fire up the game. I had fun designing it, and it was a good challenge to cater the English to their level.
Here’s my main philosophy behind the creation of the game:
-Make something that will allow students to use their English while not in class.
-Make something that feels familiar and relevant to students.
-Make something fun.
One element I decidedly removed from the game was that of combat. I could argue that I left it out because I wanted to make a game the teachers/parents would find acceptable, and a fighting element could be taken the wrong way. I could argue that. Truthfully, I thought playtesting the combat would take too much time, and I wanted this game done before the end of the school year (mid-March).
During training, a fellow English teacher gave a lecture about using technology in the classroom. At the end, he showed an RPG he made for the students in his school and how he combined the game with a classroom activity. I liked the idea, but thought game-making was a bit above my level.
Months later, I considered ways to get students to practice English outside of the classroom. In a rural town, there wasn’t any English to speak of aside from yours truly. There were a few English programs on TV such as the Disney shows Victorious and iCarly, but the students that did watch those watched them in Japanese. Having that option spelled the death of one of the only visible English opportunities.
Flash back five years. As a beginning student of Japanese, I quickly began supplementing my study time with Japanese gaming until the point where study time became synonymous with gaming. Not only did it keep my interest in Japanese in the practical rather than theoretical realm, it made study something to look forward to. I would reward myself for studying other things with language study.
I wish the same fate for my junior high school students.
As much as making an RPG in theory is a fine idea, going about the concept was actually pretty difficult. Without combat, where would the challenge be? What kind of progression systems would be in place? Why would students even want to play?
To answer the question of challenge, due to the game being entirely in English, I think the challenge will be derived simply from understanding the English. I’ve made the main story easy to follow, and the puzzles are basically just a test of basic English comprehension. Upon completion of the short main quest (my personal speedruns clock in just under the 12 minute mark), a few separate areas would open up to truly challenge players. This will allow beginners to have a story to follow and higher students the chance to test their own knowledge. In the end, the challenge is derived solely from English comprehension.
About progression, I admit now that it will be lacking, exposing a serious flaw in the game. As I’ve discussed before, story is one kind of progression in place. But it’s short. Aside from the story, the environment is sectioned off slightly, so there is a minor exploration component as well. Finally, the biggest addition I had to the game was the inclusion of “friend gathering”. Since there’s only 36 students in the middle school, the idea was that the main character (a transfer student) would have to make friends with all the students in the school. The “friending” concept would be introduced in the main story, but would basically comprise the entire element of side quests.
In regards to why: because it’s close to home, and because it “counts” as English. Having it take place in their school means every player will understand the familiar landscape and yet still feel curious as to how it is rendered in the game. Wanting to see each student’s avatar rendered in game and seeing how to become friends with them could be an intimate experience. Having the game introduced as something I made for them hopefully means they can convince their parents to play when they should be studying. Indeed, by my count, they are studying.
I would love if half the students decided to pick it up and delve into it. That would be stellar. Comparing friends and trading tips. Maybe even, if it were fully made part of the curriculum, it could be the student’s task to make a wiki for the game. The idea would be easy to implement in America, though I fear it’s a different ballgame here.
The game is coming along nicely. It’s by no means complete: Most of the students haven’t even been placed and the secret areas are still in their planning stages, probably left for last. I’m pretty confident I can finish it by the end of this month, but sometimes these things can take longer than they’re planned for.
Whatever the case, it’s been fun and I don’t regret a minute of it. Like when I’m writing fiction though, I’m finding that I can’t help but look forward to the next project. It’s giving me a good push to finish.
When I do finish it, I’ll be sure to post a link to download it here.
Have any ideas for classroom activities involving games? I’d love to hear. Sharing is caring.