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May 2023   |   Volume 24 No. 2

Serious Gaming

Students collaborate and make tough ethical decisions about the sustainability of our planet in the Global Goals Game.
Gaming is a surprisingly underresearched topic in pedagogy. Dr Jack Tsao in the Common Core Office is addressing the research shortfall with a programme that asks students to design games on weighty topics such as citizenship, fake news and gender equality.

People are bombarded every day with news stories that may or may not be truthful, but it is not always easy to sort the real from the fake. What if a game could show players how news is manipulated and fake stories generated? Breaking News, a game developed by third-year BSc student Tang Yiyi, does just that.

Players take on the role of troll factory operators on the internet who want to attract popularity without being shut down by the government. They use action cards, such as emotional appeal, conspiracy and polarisation, to spread news and inflammatory speech to gain supporters and damage their opponents – and reveal how digital media can misinform and incite netizens.

The game was developed as part of a Common Core pilot programme that shows students how to produce games and podcasts and asks them to focus on issues of societal concern, such as fake news, business ethics, climate change and gender equality.

The driver behind the programme is Dr Jack Tsao, Associate Director of the Common Core, who has a Teaching Development Grant (TDG) to investigate and devise innovative teaching approaches through both gaming and storytelling, which is typically a key component in games.

“Gaming is so prevalent but has not been widely researched or applied within the educational space. I’m interested in how to use it to create a more self-driven educational experience, where teachers act more like guides and mentors rather than dictating knowledge,” he said.

Play, tell and learn

The programme’s first iteration was in early 2022 when students created their own games based around existing Common Core courses with the help of Press Start Academy, an educational games consultancy company. The storytelling component also got underway then in partnership with the Centre for Applied English Studies by asking students to interview experts on gender inequality and feed in their own experiences to create a podcast called ‘The Voice of an Equal Future’.

The latter was carried forward earlier this year when a group of 11 students travelled to the Thai-Myanmar border to interview refugee students about their educational experiences for co-creating a podcast series for broadcast on local radio, while the gaming component was transformed last autumn by re-focussing to the theme of citizenship. This was inspired by the University’s growing emphasis on future readiness to prepare students for their lives beyond university.

“Citizenship is not just about allegiance or nationalism, it is also about using your agency to respond to issues in society, such as climate change and sustainability, through advocacy or education or doing things with other social actors,” Dr Tsao said. “We wanted to use gaming to tap into that deeper purpose and create a world lesson through the player experience.”

Hong Kong students near the Thai-Myanmar border

Hong Kong students travelling in a songthaew near the Thai-Myanmar border to interview Myanmar students.

Potential for impact

Yiyi, who is passionate about playing games, enrolled in the course to learn more about the game-making process, including how to balance the educational and entertainment value of games. “The theme of my game was inspired by the widespread dissemination of manipulative or misleading information in the current global media landscape. The game development process enhanced my confidence in building a worldview to convey a message effectively,” she said.

The students’ games have all had to be analogue, given the short two-month time frame in which they were created, but there is potential for some to be digitised. Common Core and Press Start Academy is working with Yiyi and other students to further develop their games.

The gaming programme was offered again early this year under the moniker Serious Gaming, which is both a gaming term and a reflection of the deeper intentions of the programme. This was the last iteration under Dr Tsao’s TDG, but he is compiling a guidebook and research paper on the results of the gaming and podcast programmes to share with colleagues.

He is also running a conference on June 10 at the University called Games for Change, an initiative started in the US that invites people of all ages and backgrounds to explore, learn and create games for social impact. Hong Kong will be the first venue in Asia to host a version of the conference.

“My TDG project is part of a larger initiative to explore how gamification and storytelling enhance the teaching and learning experience for students. I hope the prototypes and exemplars can showcase how game design and storytelling can be embedded within courses and expand students’ future readiness capacities. Development in this space has significant potential for impact across programmes and institutions,” he said.

The Breaking News game

The Breaking News game developed by student Tang Yiyi.

I hope the prototypes and exemplars can showcase how game design and storytelling can be embedded within courses and expand students’ future readiness capacities.