Last Tuesday I took 21 excited year 9 students on an excursion to the Game Masters exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Darling Harbour. I had heard about the exhibition from my mate Peter Mahony, who works at the Powerhouse Museum. It coincided beautifully with the end of my students’ video games research project and the beginning of their social good video game design project. I think taking students outside of the school environment to learn, at least once a term, is super important. It is really hard work organising excursions, but always worth it!
Since there was only 21 students and myself, we couldn’t hire a bus, so we all got on a public bus – this made me a tiny bit anxious (what if I lost a student? What if we couldn’t all fit on the one bus?), it turned out to be awesome. It was so cool to see my students out in the public space being great humans… sometimes we forget that side of them when we only ever see them in the semi-artificial environment of the classroom. Once we got off the bus at the QVB (about a 40 minute bus trip), we had to walk about 20 minutes to the Powerhouse museum. This was enjoyable for my students as we had to go through the Tumbalong Park – they all ended up climbing through the kids’ play equipment and jumping around the many water fountains. So much fun!
We arrived at the PHM about half an hour early – woohoo, I was early! – and this gave everyone a chance to eat something and relax before the excitement of the exhibition. I’m very fortunate to know Peter Mahony who works at the museum and he and his colleague Isabella came to greet me and my students. We even got to enter the special side gates, which my students thought was awesome! Peter spoke with them about how to engage with an exhibition and encouraged them to use the ‘look, wonder, think’ approach to what they see. Pretty neat idea… I do think that once we got in to the exhibition they all lost their heads and any logical approach to what they were seeing went WAY out the window. I mean, come on, it’s a darkened space with over 100 playable games in it – my kids went mental!
The best parts of the exhibition were definitely the stunning art work (like, wow, there is some serious talent that goes into making video games – if your kids can draw and love video games, their future is bright!) as well as the videos of the designers talking about their experiences in the gaming industry. I watched the video about the origins of Blizzard – it was great, I wish I didn’t have my teacher hat on (you know, supervising the students and all) and will likely return to the exhibition with my two sons and husband. I also really enjoyed the arcade games (showing my age) because I was better at them than my students and maintained the high score on PacMan and Space Invaders for the entire time we were there. They loved challenging me to play different games and see if they could beat me – it was one of the most relaxing and fun times we’ve spent as a class. It reminds me (especially after a particularly trying day with that class today, lol) that we need to spend more time playing together and less time working to deadlines. Is this possible in school? I don’t know. I am beginning to start questioning whether my students’ engagement with video games and gaming culture is too passive… it’s something that I will continue to think about and will return to in another blog post.
Truly this day was special for me and my students. I just hope that we can all remember it as we get bogged down in the complexities and challenges of designing social impact games in teams. I really want to create more of a playful environment for this project, one in which a healthy spirit of competition and freedom is meshed with the focus and drive needed to create something truly original and awesome. So far I’ve hear whispers of a platformer based on the TV show ’16 and pregnant’… I’m getting worried 😉
PS: The Game Masters exhibition is on until mid-May and is only $15 for kids – so cheap!