Game design helps the learning cycle

The NZ Transport Agency’s Game Design Competition has prompted cross-curriculum delivery for a class of Year 9 students, writes Wayne Erb

When students from Heretaunga College investigated potential road safety hazards on local streets, they took to their bikes. Before pedalling out the school gate, they strapped on GoPro cameras to a helmet, a handlebar and the back of a seat. They didn’t want to miss a thing.

PE teacher and Assistant Principal Hayden Shaw (pictured) joined them on his bike. The pedal-powered investigation was ground work for his class to enter the NZ Transport Agency’s Game Design Competition.

Students have worked on their games during both PE and technology timetable slots. It’s a pilot project organised by Hayden to explore cross-curriculum delivery.

Different learning areas

“I’m interested in design thinking and how that can be brought into school more across different learning areas,” he said.

As a result, learning spans physical activity, community participation and technological practice, with a context of road safety to activate student thinking.

“It engages the social side of their thinking and that’s quite important. Allowing them to think about what is actually happening in the world they’re part of, and how they can potentially make a change or influence their world is a positive thing.”

This social outlook addresses key competencies, including participating and contributing. Hayden’s students keep portfolios about how their project teams put key competencies into play – giving them a way to reflect on their learning.

“They might take some footage of themselves in action and add that into a Google doc. It’s a work in progress but it’s another way of seeing the learning that is coming out of this project.”

He’ll evaluate the cross-curricular unit based on feedback from students about how they’ve enjoyed it, the quality of the games they make, and his own observations of the class in action.

game-design-competitionGame Design Competition 2016

Got the best road safety game idea? Gather your team, make it happen and win! The Game Design Competition 2016 is open to Year 7-13 students and entries are open until
1 July (the end of Term 2).

There are two categories: 

  • Game Design Document 
  • Or Playable Game + Game Design Document. 

For more see centre pages or go to

Planning across two subjects

The key thing to running a game design project across two subjects was setting aside time for teachers to meet and plan. As a result, in technology, students worked through the stages of technological practice, from a brief towards prototyping.

“We brainstormed and did our first designs then compared them to the specifications for what we have to do for the game,” said student Ruby.

PE class provided time for students to develop their contextual knowledge of road safety. Hayden made use of the College’s 12 mountain bikes. He ran cycle skills training in-school, before the most able cyclists joined him on the road ride.

Collaborative learning

And there was a cross-over of skills, with Hayden slipping design thinking into his PE class. He tasked students with designing physical activities with the bikes. Once it was time to create games, the teachers arranged a fortnight when students worked intensively on their outcomes across all PE and tech periods.

The competition requires students to work on their entries as a group, providing them with more experience aligned to the key competencies.

Hayden says students are at different stages of managing their learning and how they collaborate.

“Some groups are highly functioning. There are also groups that are battling away. They are taking a little longer because they’re struggling with having a little more autonomy over their time. That’s a positive thing because it’s something for us to keep working at.”   

Wayne Erb is a freelance writer.

FAQs about the Game Design Competition

Why is the NZ Transport Agency running the Game Design Competition?

The agency wants students and their teachers to have a time and place for discussing how to share the roads safely. Everyone is a road user. And everyone is a citizen who can be heard and make a difference on our roads. The competition connects with young people’s experience and expertise in playing games. The hook is young people can become game designers.

We are wondering about how we are not allowed to show crashes in our game. Is it okay to have two cars collide if no injuries or damage is shown?

Having cars colliding without showing the results of the crash would be acceptable in an entry, as long as the game design overall has a focus on helping players learn about positive safe road use. Keep references to crashes to a bare minimum when essential for gameplay and avoid explicitly showing damage, death and injury. Focus on rewarding players for positive actions. This not only keeps the game positive and fun, but it is based on our best understandings that road safety initiative should avoid fear or shock tactics, and should help people learn positive actions.

Does the competition rule out any kind of negative consequence for players making ‘wrong’ choices?

It is acceptable to submit a game in which players lose points, start again or get fined for unsafe road use, so long as the game is designed with a focus on safe road use and players are rewarded for positive actions. Games should avoid explicit depiction or extensive focus on disaster scenarios, such as crashes, death, injuries, fear tactics or violence. Instead, judges want to see games that help players learn what safe road use is all about.

Why do entries have to be made by teams of three or more students?

Team-based projects can be fun. Collaboration lets people with different talents and interests contribute to the best of their abilities. And you can learn skills for the future such as:

  • expressing your ideas;
  • seeking and responding to feedback;
  • making decisions together; and
  • managing roles and responsibilities.

Teamwork may lead to better game designs. It’s how things work in the games industry. Most commercial games are developed by teams of people, like game designers, programmers and artists.

Why do we need to test our game design with other people?

The aim is for students to give their best shot at winning a prize. All the advice from game developers is that good ideas for a game do not pop into your head complete and ready to go.

Plus, playtesting and sharing your game gives you a real-world experience to remember. You get to share your ideas about safe road use within your community and see the response.

Source: NZ Transport Agency

What the Heretaunga College students say about their games design learning …

bikes2On their bikes: Rebekah, Ruby and Charlotte say their game design experience helped them become more aware of road safety.

“We brainstormed what we already knew would help us to make our game, what we needed to learn, and our ideas for what we want our road safety game to be like.” Ruby

“You take games for granted, but when you design one yourself it’s a lot harder than you think it will be. You have to make decisions. You need to know the rules and you need to make sure it is fun and appealing. And we’re learning to make decisions and take other people’s thoughts into account.” Charlotte

“We’re learning about the process of designing things.” Rebekah