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  • Making Video Games ... With Fifth Graders

    - Giancarlos Alvarado
  •  Children love anything that they can touch and manipulate because it appeals to their developing tactile sense and motor skills. Video games can provide children with the kind of creative and educational outlet that they inherently crave. In this day and age when impersonal standardized testing and state standards emphasize uniformity over uniqueness and creativity, creating a common platform that nourishes student-teacher relationships is more crucial than ever before. And while all educators must adhere to these standards, there are ways to break out of the mold. My way is to have my class create its own video game. Games have become a common platform for my students and me, bridging the gap between the formalities of the education system and the fun and excitement of learning.

    Putting video games into a classroom is an unsettling topic for many parents, teachers, and administrators, given the violent or mindless and frivolous reputation of games in mainstream society. For many, the question is simply, "Why take something that is considered only a fun pastime in our society and integrate it into an educational setting?" Yet why wouldn't the concept work? It's been successful with mediums such as documentary films so why not video games? Games are, after all, quickly becoming the number one industry in entertainment -- which leads me to the question, "Can video games become a successful part of our educational system?"


    Giancarlos Alvadaro decorates his fifth grade classroom with memorable video game characters.

    Like many of you, video games defined my childhood. (Okay, they defined my collegiate career as well.) Fictional works such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, Xenogears, Panzer Dragoon, Resident Evil, and Shadow of the Colossus piqued my interest far more than any textbook or, for that matter, anything the teacher tried to impart to the class. Video games are something that most children can and do relate to.

    Origins of the Project
    I'm sure the bigger question for you is how I came up with the crazy idea of having my fifth grade class create a video game and how in the world we've pulled it off.

    In 2003, I worked for an after school program, and we were in need of activities that would keep the students busy.  Around the same time I discovered this neat software application called RPG Maker (used to create simple role-playing video games) and wondered, "What if I teach my kids how to create a game?"

    I started a video game club, and it was a smashing success. We had a lot of clubs at the time, such as dancing, art, and gym but it was the video game club that was the most popular by far. Kids would join the group after finishing their homework and work on individual RPG Maker projects. At the end of the year, each student received a CD of his or her video game to play at home.

    I continued to run the club until late 2004 when I decided to focus on finishing my college education. Now, having graduated, I am a full-time fifth grade teacher with my very own classroom which allows me to test the waters beyond after school programs to see games can be just as beneficial in the classroom.


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