Updated: May 9
What's going on everyone?
I have looked for a number of ways to engage with students as we have continued with our remote learning lives. Obviously that means I am going to try and incorporate video games wherever I can. I had recently read about a lovely little game called Assemble With Care, developed by Ustwo Games, and thought it would be a good addition to one of my classes. It is puzzle game that uses its gameplay to reinforce the morals presented in its story. It is available to play on Apple Arcade, a subscription service that lets people play a large number of mobile games. Luckily, Apple Arcade is always free for the first month. So I had students sign up in order to play this game for free. You just need to remember to have them cancel the subscription before it automatically renews. You can find the full lesson plan for Assemble With Care here.
Mobile games offer a unique opportunity for storytellers. While there are plenty of fun games to be found on mobile, touch screens are still not the best way to play games. Most people would prefer to play almost any game with a controller or a keyboard and mouse. Mobile phones, however, are an ideal place to experiment with narrative games that utilize new forms of storytelling. Assemble With Care is a perfect example of the type of story that can be enhanced by the gaming experience found on a mobile phone.
"Assemble With Care is a story about taking things apart and putting ourselves back together. When Maria, a globe-trotting antique restorer, arrives in the sun-soaked town of Bellariva, she has no idea just how broken it will turn out to be. She wants nothing more than to help the town’s inhabitants save their most beloved possessions, but when it’s their personal lives that are starting to fracture, she’ll need to find a way to hold them together, one spare screw at a time.” -Ustwogames
The simplicity of the game is part of its appeal. Each level starts off as any typical story. You are introduced to the characters and a problem that they are currently facing. They always contain some item that has been broken, leaving you with the task of assembling the pieces back together. As you repair a number of miscellaneous items it becomes apparent that you are actually aiding in repairing peoples' lives and relationships as well. It is not the deepest- metaphorically speaking, game in the world, but it is really refreshing to find this kind of narrative embedded in a puzzle game. What makes it even more enjoyable is the wonderful soundtrack. It makes playing through a somewhat meditative experience.
For this lesson, I wanted my students to analyze how the gameplay in Assemble With Care reinforces the moral of the story. I had them keep track of the various items you reassemble for the characters in the game. Each item holds sentimental significance to the characters. When you fix these items, you fix something inside each person as well. Each level acts as a chapter which contains an introduction, a puzzle, and then a conclusion. This student really liked the format. They mentioned that, "I felt good. I was like the main character and I got too [so] familiar in the game until level 8 that I felt that it helps you understand the story behind each item and the characters but it does not show you exactly how to repair things once they are missing something." It's not so often that a simple puzzle game is capable of getting the player to form an emotional connection with its characters and narrative.
Unfortunately we did run into a bit of a problem with the game for this student. While the puzzles aren't particularly too difficult, they can potentially be frustrating if you are missing one small piece. That happened to this student as she notes she was stuck on level 8. This is a potential challenge of teaching from home since I was not in the classroom to help them as needed. I ended up instead posting a playthrough of the game that students could refer to if they got stuck like this student. That way they can find the help they need, or watch the game in full if they really wanted. Despite this challenge they were still able to grasp the moral of the game. This student mentions, "The moral of the game is to show that even though people have materials that for others may not be important Maria was always trying to find the way to fix the non significant to make people feel better through the fact that it was significant for them." Something that may seem insignificant to me may be of great importance to another person. The relationships of people are often forged by the items they possess.
For the final question regarding how the gameplay reinforces the moral this student responded, "The moral of the game is reinforced by the gameplay Assembly with care by using its name to gather a group of people together with the end of reconstruct something together once Maria gets to the small time of ballerina, this group of people that live in the town called Maria to help her get some money and as she was helping them with their items they were helping Maria to get throughout her dream of getting a job in another time." Despite this being a run on sentence [remember that I teach English Language Learners], I believe the student is trying to say that we are assembling a group of people together the same way we are assembling the various items throughout the game.
This wasn't a perfect lesson by any means. You never want to assign something that a student is unable to finish. But then again, nothing I'm doing during this whole remote learning fiasco is going to be perfect. Everything I do is a learning experience. Other students were able to finish the game with no issues, but I felt like I should share this student's work because it is important to note potential challenges. I hope sometime in the future I will be able to teach with this game in my classroom. Being face to face with my students is just a better experience in general and I think it would have been really nice to have verbal class discussions of the game. When I do eventually teach with it again in a proper setting, I'll be sure to write about how it goes.
Thanks for reading,
Consider subscribing if you would like to stay more up to date with posts like this. It's free!