Games, Technology and Science Education


Design Document by Melissa Pelletier


Animalia is a Nintendo Wii game that will be themed around animals and their abilities and behaviors that have evolved for survival in their environments. Players will take on the role of an animal and use its capability to perform a specific game task.

Problem Description:

Traditional science education involves teaching middle school aged students a large amount of declarative knowledge. Learning about science becomes largely two dimensional with this approach. Even though countless film and television programs have been produced that present natural phenomenon for people to watch, the experience is still passive. Moreover, certain natural phenomenon are not visible with the naked eye and needs to be simulated through animation to be visualized. Animation provides visualization of a dynamic phenomenon – when they are not easily observable in real space and time scales (Betrancourt, 2005).

There are not enough resources for students and the public to access that will present both visible and invisible natural phenomenon in an active, immersive format. Animalia is an attempt to provide just that.

Theoretical Framework Employed:

Why is this approach valid?

By immersing the player not only into the environment these animals populate, but also into the role of the animals themselves, they will be required to think like the animal in order to complete the game tasks. This is an example of a constructivist learning environment that not only presents content that is useful for practical, curricular reasons, but a context for understanding that helps the learner construct mental models. Constructivist perspectives do not ignore the role of instruction, but instead place a greater emphasis on a person’s interaction in a content area and the relationship of that interaction to that person’s prior knowledge about the content. (Jonassen, 1991).

I aim to provide the possibilities for interaction with both new content and prior knowledge with Animalia.  For example, when learning about echolocation, the player will not only understand the meaning of the phenomenon, but also understand how it is used and in what context. Additionally, research has shown that mental models can be constructed not only by visual perception, but also by auditive, kinesthetic or haptic perception. Utilizing multiple modalities to teach concepts, will allow the brain to process multiple streams of information simultaneously (Schnotz, Bannert p. 143)

Main Educational Themes:

Through the games, players will learn how animal capabilities are used for: Attraction, Repulsion, Communication, Illumination and Camouflage. These characteristics stand out as survival mechanisms for the animals throughout the world. The examples utilized in this gallery of games include those that are evolutionarily complex and are generally considered natural wonders for animal species. Some examples include: Echolocation, Bioluminescence, Manipulation of objects and Compound eyes.

Platform Rationale:

The gallery of mini games is designed for use with the Nintendo Wii. The Wii is a revolutionary gaming console that combines physical player motion with traditional game play. The Wii Remote is the primary controller for the console. It uses a combination of built-in accelerometers and infrared detection to sense its position in 3D space when pointed at the LEDs within the Sensor Bar. This design allows users to control the game using physical gestures as well as traditional button presses. The controller connects to the console using Bluetooth and features rumble as well as an internal speaker. (

The Nintendo Wii has the capabilities of visual, audible, and haptic feedback as well as physical interaction. These are affordances that help simulate sensory experiences better than traditional game consoles. This will aid the depth of this immersive learning environment. The Wii has been recognized as an educational tool in regards to encouraging physical fitness (Carless, 2007), and some games have been developed for mathematics education (Weir, 2008), but overall, I have not seen a lot of innovative uses for this console. Therefore, I would like to point out the Wii’s affordances and to start thinking creatively about sensory feedback.

Target Audience:

Middle school aged students are the primary target audience for this game set. Underlying content used in planning the games are all based on natural phenomenon that could be studied at the middle school level (generally ages 11 – 13) According to the Core Curriculum standards for New York State: Students should have the ability to explain, analyze, and interpret scientific processes and phenomenon more than their ability to recall certain facts. (New York State Department of Education, 2009). Adolescents, aged 11 – 13 are also among “Generation Z” having been born after 1994 (Palfrey, 2008) and are considered technologically proficient with computer and game console use.

Games are a pervasive form of entertainment for this age group, and the Wii has become one of the most popular gaming consoles, selling nearly 25 million units in the Americas alone as of September of 2009 ( Therefore it is assumed that this demographic will at least be aware of and or have an interest in the Nintendo Wii. Another category of users includes anyone interested in this kind of game for entertainment purposes.

Learner Characteristics:

We read about some issues brought up in Dan Saffer’s book, Desinging for Interaction, pertaining to humans and gestural input (Saffer, pp 166-167):

– Physiology and kinesiology – Designers have to know how humans move and what the limitations are for that movement. For example, holding an arm out and making gestures can be quickly tiring – a condition known as “gorilla arm.” This was taken into consideration with designing the movements for each mini game. For instance, I wanted the user to use simple representative movements of animal behaviors, that would be fun, but not overly exhausting.

– Avoiding “false positives.” – Since human beings make gestures all the time in the course of just moving around, designing and then detecting deliberate gestures can be challenging. In designing interactions with the Wii remote, there are built in conventions that the players are familiar with including the buttons and controls. I incorporated button use, as well as phyiscal gestures into the game play, to provide a unique, but conventional experience in regards to behavior.

– Matching gesture to task. – Without standard controls, figuring out the best motion to trigger an action is important. Simple gestures should be matched to simple tasks. In designing the gestural movements for Animalia, I wanted one central movement to be assigned to each animal. This one movement will be practiced beforehand, recognized by the system as having been mastered before playing, then utilized at relevant moments in the game narrative.

Learning Objectives and their sequencing:

Bat Game: The learner will gain an understanding of echolocation from a first person perspective, witnessing the phenomenon take place at relevant moments in the game narrative. Specifically. when the Bat is hungry, he will use echolocation to find food. (bugs, fruit, etc.)

Octopus Game: The learner will gain an understanding of the concept of camouflage through the activation of chromatophores. Specifically, the player will change the color of the octopus’s skin to avoid a predator through camouflage.

The rest of the learning objectives are organized similarly, featuring a relevant use for the animal’s ability, at a relevant moment in the games’ narrative.

Description of Interaction Design:

There are three major schools of thought when it comes to defining interaction design (Saffer, p 5) and I have utilized two of them in Animalia:

– Technology centered view – Interaction designers make technology, particularly digital technology useful, usable, and pleasurable to use.

– Behaviorist View – This view focusses on functionality and feedback based on what the people engaged with them are doing.

Listed as one of four approaches for Interaction design, I utilized Activity Centered Design (Saffer, p. 35). Although games are not traditionally analyzed in terms of Activity Centered Design, the ideas for the design of these games takes into account natural human movements, as well as animal movements. Activity Centered Design “doesn’t focus on the goals and preferences of users, but instead on behavior surrounding particular tasks.” This rationale is in line with the goals of the games presented herein.

In regards to some of the principles of interaction design, I have utilized a direct manipulation of objects – this refers to the process in which, by selecting a digital object with a finger or with a mouse or with some other extension of the hand, we can then do something to the object: move it, turn it, drag it to the trash, change its color, and so on (Saffer, p 129). Because direct manipulation more closely maps to our physical experiences, is supposedly more easily learned and used, especially for manipulating 3-d objects in digital space (Saffer, p. 130).

Interaction design can be thought in part as providing affordances so that the features and functionality of a product can be discovered and correctly used (Saffer, p 131). Feedback should be appropriate to the activity. Every action should be accompanied by some acknowledgement of the action. Some distinctions of the feedback used in Animalia include Immediate feedback – occurs almost simultaneously as the player action; and feedforward – knowing what will happen before you perform an action (Saffer, pp 132-133). A certain level of predictability of actions will help scaffold the player as they are trying a game for the first time.

Use Model / Walkthrough:

The player turns on the Wii and loads the game into the console. The main menu illustrates the gallery of games available to play. Each game is themed around a different animal, which is how the games are differentiated. The player will see animal pictures associated with each game, of which there are a few pages of available.

For the purposes of this demonstration, I have included six games per screen. In a fully developed set of games, the number of games would be dictated by the number of animals that exist, and ideas for game narrative! I listed ideas for 15 games, each featuring a specific animal, and their unique ability. Each one animal represented a classification in the kingdom animalia – providing inspiration for the game title.

Game animals and themes include:

– Dolphin – uses echolocation to find food, communicate

– Bat – uses echolocation to find food, communicate

– Blind Mole Rat – uses “dead reckoning” to trace it steps, as well as the earth’s magnetic field.

– Orangutan – manipulation of rudimentary tools to acquire food

– Bird (Sunbittern) – Plumage displays, calls and songs

– Chameleon – uses chromatophores for camouflage.

– Frogs – unique vocalizations

– Deep sea fish – use bioluminescence to find food, navigate.

– Fly – has compound eyes, sees many images compiled into one vision

– Octopus – uses chromatophores for camouflage

– Jellyfish – minimal senses altogether, yet still functions.

After selecting a game with the Wii remote, the game set up would begin. The player would be instructed how to move their body and the Wii remote for the particular game. For example, if the game theme included a bat, the player would be instructed to use a flapping motion to move the bat around. This flapping motion would be mimicked by an onscreen animation, similar to other Wii game instructions.

Each animal type has a different physical movement associated with it, although some animals have similar motions (e.g. birds and bats). The player would select a button to indicate they are ready to start the game. The game would begin with the image of the animal zoomed out, then the perspective would change and the image would zoom in close as though the player were the animal.

Each game presents different senses and abilities of animals. The main functions of these abilities are: Attraction, Repulsion, Communication, Illumination and Camouflage. These are the main game themes that will become a part of the game task. However, other fictional game tasks may be presented as well. For instance, if the game character were a dolphin, the player may use a sense such as echolocation to find their way around the environment.

Echolocation would be represented through visual, audial, and haptic feedback from the Wii remote and the player would need to use the sensory feedback from the game to navigate around the environment.

A similar application of this game play would be for an animal such as a blind mole rat. The player would have very minimal visual cues as to how to navigate around an environment, but through sounds a vibration feedback, the player would successfully move through the environment and find the target (e.g. food). One final example of a game character and theme would be a primate such as a chimpanzee. Primates have the ability to make and manipulate rudimentary tools in order to acquire food. This particular game could revolve around constructing a tool from the environment and using that tool to acquire food.


Betrancourt, M. (2005). The animation and interactivity principle in multimedia learning. Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, (p 288) Cambridge University Press

Carless, S. (2007). In Gamasutra. Fitness experts endorse Wii for health benefits. Retrieved 20:13, December 11, 2009 from

Jonassen, D. (1991) Objectivism versus consrtructivism: Do we need a new philosophical paradigm? Educational Technoogy Research and Development, 39(3), 5-14.

Palfrey, J. (2008). Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, New York: Basic Books.

Saffer, D. (2010) Designing for Interaction, (2nd ed), California: New Riders.

Schnotz, W. & Bannert, M. (2003). Construction and Interference in learning from multiple representation. Learning and Instruction, 13 (pp 141-156)

The State Education Department (2008) Intermediate Level Science, Core Curriculum, grades 5-8. The University of the State of New York. From

Weir, L. (2008). In Edutopia. Wii learning: using gaming technology to engage students. Retreived 20:17,December 11, 2009, from gaming-technology-classroom

Wii. (2009, December 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encycldia. Retrieved 20:10, December 11, 2009, from

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