A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Gamestar Mechanic is a web-based video game with its own online community, that, through an epic adventure-based plot, teaches kids the fundamentals of game design. Kids will be able to publish their created games and try out the original games of others; and this site closely monitors all created content. Any communication on the site is also watched over carefully, and there is no live chat of any kind, nor any use of personal information. Some of the games that will be both played and designed contain minor cartoon violence (including weaponry), but the old-school, sprite-based graphics are not realistic at all. Also, know that you can set a time limit for how much your child can play the game in one day (and tell your kids not to worry; the shutdown is context-based, meaning they won't be kicked off until they reach a point where they can save their game).
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What's it about?
Gamestar Mechanic follows a young wannabe game designer named Addison (who can be male or female) on a journey through the ranks of the League of Designers. The setting: A futuristic sci-fi world where game designers are treated like superheroes. Users spend most of their time on Gamestar Mechanic learning about different types of games (platformers, shooters, puzzles, and top-down adventures), playing samples of those types, and then using the sprites (character icons) and backgrounds they've earned to create their own. Games that are created are shared online and reviewed (in a moderated forum) by other players.
Is it any good?
Gamestar Mechanic is a stunningly in-depth, and endlessly interesting, foray into the world of game design. But it's all played out like a sci-fi adventure game in and of itself. The concept is brilliant, and playing through it is undeniably entertaining. The collecting aspect, in which you play games in order to earn new visual elements to place in your own games, is a great touch that should keep kids coming back for more (if the sheer fun of the whole thing didn't do that already). Sure, the games you create won't be next-gen 3-D epics, but when you see that something you've designed yourself can be enjoyable or challenging, it creates a great feeling of accomplishment. The word "achievement" gets thrown around a lot in the video game world, but here, the work you do really feels like it earns that title.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how learning to design games can help in other parts of life that have nothing to do with video games. For instance, can plotting the layout of a video game maze help you when hooking up a new peripheral to your computer? Or maybe when constructing a piece of DIY furniture? The skills learned here are not just about gaming.
Parents can ask their kids what kind of games they like designing best. And why? Do they prefer heavy action? Or are brain-twisting puzzle games more their thing?
Parents can also use this opportunity to talk about being a good digital citizen. Kids are encouraged to review the games posted by other players. If you don't like a game, how can you say so in a way that would be helpful to that game's designer, and not hurtful?
- Platforms: Mac, Windows
- Subjects: Science: motion, physics
Math: patterns, sequences
- Skills: Tech Skills: digital creation, using and applying technology
Creativity: innovation, making new creations, producing new content
Thinking & Reasoning: logic, strategy, thinking critically
- Pricing structure: Paid, Free (Basic is free, $2 per student, consumer version is $19.95.)
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Institute of Play and E-Line Media
- Release date: September 10, 2010
- Genre: Edutainment
- Topics: STEM
- ESRB rating: NR
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.