The Trials of the Multiplayer Classroom

It’s hard, but there’s hope

So now that you’re Level 1 (if you’re not Level 1 or don’t know what I’m talking about, click here), you might have a very important question:

If running a multiplayer classroom is such a good thing, why isn’t everybody doing it?

Good question. I’m glad you asked.

Running a multiplayer classroom combines three separate disciplines. You’ll need to be a curriculum designer to create the lesson plans and learner outcomes, a game designer to create a set of rules that work toward your goals, and a content designer to build an engaging world for your students to explore. Having grown up as a complete and unabashed geek, I’ve done all three professionally, so I have a bit of an advantage when it comes to creating a multiplayer classroom, but I’m here to tell you that you can do it even without all three of these skills.

Three disciplines, all alike in dignity, all a part of the ideal multiplayer classroom.

A multiplayer classroom is first and foremost a classroom, as it should be, and so you’ll need to design curriculum. Educational material that is already available is unlikely to be a perfect fit with your game paradigm, so you need to be able to either tweak the curriculum you have to fit the multiplayer classroom or design your own from scratch.

This isn’t the hardest part. Curriculum design is a requirement in most educator certification programs. If you’re in a position to run a multiplayer classroom I’m not terribly worried about your chances in that department. If you’re not sure what kind of curriculum might fit, don’t worry — I’ll be addressing the element of curriculum design in a future blog post.

The second discipline you need is the ability to design game mechanics that work. You may have already dabbled a bit in game design without realizing it, by creating or picking a house rule or local variant of canasta or beer pong or something, which is excellent. But since there is not standard multiplayer classroom, you’ll need to create a game from scratch.

Game designers are familiar with lots of different games and game mechanics. They can analyze a set of rules and see how those rules interact with one another and how they affect game play. They also rely heavily on the iterative design process, testing their games over and over again before releasing them to the public. Don’t worry — I’ll be addressing the element of game design in a future blog post.

The third and final discipline that I’m talking about in this post is content design, by which I mean creating the fictional world around a set of game mechanics that turns it into what we think of as a game. Most games on the market have this fictional element. Think Monopoly, Risk, Clue, Battleship, and even chess.

You don’t need to have fictional content in your classroom, of course. There are good reasons to include it. There’s a reason that so many games have content (also known in the industry as fiction, lore, background, or fluff), and that’s engagement. Don’t worry — I’ll be addressing the element of content design in a future blog post.

Take heart, you can get everything you want out of the multiplayer classroom setting without a production company or a very geeky upbringing.

These three disciplines are pretty distinct in their skill sets. Game companies (who don’t have to worry about the curriculum part so much) have teams of people who handle different aspects of the game (plus the management, marketing, and production for putting out games that are games and not classrooms). Magic: the Gathering, the highest grossing tabletop game in history, initially needed 26 people plus 25 artists to produce. The third highest grossing video game, Grand Theft Auto V, rolls its credits at the end of the game … for 40 minutes.

You, on the other hand, are a teacher, alone in your classroom. Or if you’re lucky, you’re part of a teaching team, which is better than being a singleton but it’s still no production company.

Take heart, O player of my blog! You can get everything you want out of the multiplayer classroom setting without a production company or a very geeky upbringing. You don’t have to convert your entire classroom all at once. In fact, I strongly recommend against it. Later in this blog series, I’ll ask you to pick one aspect of multiplayer classrooms and introduce it into your class. Then you can introduce other aspects later, when you have the time and energy. You’ll get good results from each piece as you go. It’s how I did it, and it’s worked well so far.

I’ll be posting about different, individual aspects that you can try out in your own classroom in the future, although my next piece will be about a slightly different topic in education and how it applies to the multiplayer classroom. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to level up by reading it. Which reminds me …

Congratulations! You’ve made it to Level 2!

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