Colony Moon: Edumacational!

I was dead chuffed to see this come across my G+ feed today (and if you’re not on G+ why not?). Being ‘educational’ can be the kiss of death to games, but I’m incredibly pleased that this game was this useful in this context. Thanks Anthony! You can buy Colony: Moon HERE:

In May, when I first got James Desborough’s Colony Moon, I was delighted by the premise and looked forward to getting to play it. As I work in a language department, I also felt that this was a product that could be useful in the classroom.

A few weeks later, after a few sample sessions, I decided to take it to work. Work for me is at a business school.

I chose a class of international students in their first year of university, and assigned some of them the task of familiarizing themselves with the space race, and the others with current plans for Luna and Mars. We don’t need to go into how many of them had never given space a thought. I linked these researches to product development, product life cycles, and the ongoing demon of expanding their active vocabulary.

The next stage was to assign the reading of the background for the game. Students returned with some questions, and we held a discussion regarding the factions, their goals, and their motivations.

We followed this up with a trial run of the game mechanics. The students had to use the source material to teach themselves how to play under a time limit. Once we got over the partly surprising hurdle of these students being almost entirely unfamiliar with the use of dice for anything other than counting spaces on kiddie game boards or gambling, we were ready to go into the fourth stage of the project: simulating our colony. It was at this point that the students really started to understand the underlying purpose of all of this, and really get into it.

Personally, I like cooperative play but I recognize the value and impact of competition, so I set the class into small groups of 4-5. The progress of each group would be judged against the others, as would the quality and originality of their solutions to the problems they encountered.

Groups had to guide themselves in running the game (with some on the spot assistance from me) and take notes regarding the events, their solutions, and the fate of the colony.

The final stage was to have each student turn in a report of the simulation, describing what their colony had encountered, the effectiveness of their solutions and the administrators, the actual fate of the colony at the end of the simulation, and their thoughts about what might happen afterward.

I was very pleased to read in these reports how much the students enjoyed the concept of the assignments, the challenge of having to use their English under pressure to learn and demonstrate a set of actions, and the actual situations they faced in the simulation. Initially there was some obvious, but unvoiced, resistance to the idea of a “game.” Not only did Colony: Moon expand their idea of the meaning of the word game, it further opened them to the idea of working together in discussion and debate to develop their understanding of other subjects and courses.

Using the game in class provides challenges for students with little to no background in gaming, and many more for those students with limited English skills and limited awareness of the history and hopes of space exploration. Taking things in stages, and connecting these stages to other real-world applications and requirements can turn these challenges into very worthwhile training.