When we were looking at the new curriculum last year, we were drawn to the idea of looking at text based adventure games and it was penciled in to our Year 6 curriculum. From September I’m the one who has to find a way to introduce and teach this topic so I was really pleased when someone on twitter mentioned Quest. Today I took my first look at this software and will be creating a couple of posts as I try and figure out what to do.
For those of you who remember, way back in the eighties most people didn’t have consoles, or even machines powerful enough to display brightly coloured images and so we had to make do with playing text based adventure games on Commodores and BBC computers (and whatever else followed). I remember, as a very young child, playing a lot of these games and getting incredibly frustrated, but also hugely addictive. Like Ian Livingstone’s fighting fantasy books, they allowed you to control the story you were reading and it was really good fun. Just an aside, does anyone else remember Granny’s Garden – the ultimate text based adventure game for children because it had a few rubbish 8-bit pictures and some terrible music (yeah, I bet you’re humming it right now).
Anyway, the first thing I did was create an account on the Quest website, at which point I noticed a link to ActiveLit described as interactive fiction for schools and groups, which seemed much more like what I was looking for so I also signed up for that.
ActiveLit let me create individual user accounts fairly easily although there doesn’t seem to be a bulk upload option (yet), whereas Quest wanted email verification for each user – having logged into both with a test account, they both seem to have the same interface, but ActiveLit allows the teacher some control, which is fine by me!I realised, while thinking about this topic, that in a world of PS4 and Xbox One as well as smart phones and iPads, most children would not have ever experienced a text based adventure game and so one great feature of ActiveLit is that you, as admin user, can select games that have already been made and get the children to explore them:
For now, I’ve picked one at random from the education section for the children to explore – I’d like to take a really good look at some of these to ensure they really are educational (it’s already upsetting me that the bottom game has the American spelling of labour).
For me, the single most important lesson to be taken from text based adventure games is that you HAVE to choose the right words; your spelling and syntax needs to be correct otherwise nothing happens. This is such an important lesson when it comes to code (and basic literacy if we’re being honest) that it can’t be ignored. By playing a few games, the children should begin to understand how this works (and how frustrating it can be when a simple misspelling can cause an error).
So, when my test pupil logs in they see the following:
At the top, a list of games I, the admin user, have suggested they look at and then either to the right or below, their own creations.
For now, I would suggest the first lesson for both teachers and children is to simply play a game and see how it works – having played with a couple, it seems that the interface allows you to create slightly more complicated games then I remember, with much more visual controls (an inventory list, a compass with possible directions highlighted and even a list of interact-able items).
However, this does seem to be optional as you can see (yes, this really is the original 1984 Hitchhiker’s text based adventure game written by Douglas Adams):
Once I’ve had a chance to try out the creation interface I’ll be writing a new blog, but that’s all for now folks.
I’ve just discovered something else really good about the admin panel – it has a VERY detailed log of users actions so if I take a quick glance at my test session yesterday, you can see exactly what my test user has done!
This will provide an excellent opportunity for assessment and discussion about success criteria. It can be shared with the class to discuss ideas and suggest solutions or used for one to one discussion with someone who, perhaps, isn’t able to understand how the game works.
I have to say, I am REALLY impressed with this feature.