For Teachers

Write Right: Game Rules to the Rescue

Write Right: PB&J and Game Rules to the Rescue
by Kim Vandenbroucke, The Game Aisle

When I was in fifth grade my teacher had us write down instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  He then proceeded to follow the steps EXACTLY as written by each student.  Some of my classmates ended up with two slices of bread, some ended up with nothing as he had not been instructed to open the bag of bread, and a lucky few of us ended up with something that resembled a sandwich.  Mine was open-faced as he didn’t follow "touch the peanut butter to the jelly" as I had intended; instead the jar of peanut butter touched the jar of jelly, to which I of course pointed out that was plastic touching glass, but he slid my almost completed sandwich my direction and moved onto the next student. 

What did I take away from this exercise, other than my PB&J?  That writing directions for someone who has no idea how to accomplish a task is difficult.  You must first consider your audience and then provide the exact steps they need to be successful. 

Now, I have to say the exercise was extremely tedious as "pick up the knife" probably didn’t need to be squeezed between "open the jar of peanut butter" and "use the knife to scoop some of the peanut butter out" but the overall concept of thinking about every step that went into the process was definitely eye opening and an excellent warm-up for more advanced and concise technical writing.  The notion of being able to explain to another person how to complete a process that they have no experience with obviously requires thoughtful presentation and clear writing to avoid confusion.

So herein lies my idea.  I’ve heard of teachers who use game directions as a reading comprehension exercise. They pass out games to groups of students and each group must read the instructions, learn how to play and then be able to teach it to the rest of the class. Interesting idea, but as I have seen far too many sets of rules where the writer could benefit from the PB&J lesson, it could be a disaster unless you vet the directions first. 

What if the roles were reversed?  You teach your students a game and then ask them to write the game's instructions.  How do they organize the material?  Is their writing clear and concise?  Could someone who has never seen the game before play it?  Do they over-explain or conversely, are key gameplay elements missing?  At the end of the exercise, you might even end up with a better set of directions than the publisher has provided!  And the bonus of the exercise is that all of the students learn a new game.  Sounds like a win-win to me!

If you're looking for an expert in the game industry, you're probably looking for Kim Vandenbroucke. Not only does she review games at The Game Aisle, but she also designs them and is one of those people that companies call when they need to have a game designed.


+1 #3 Lisa Hynek 2010-10-28 14:15
This is a great idea - but where was it last month when we did technical writing? Hopefully I can remember to use it next year when the time comes. ;-)
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0 #2 Patrick Matthews 2010-10-28 10:08
Whoops! I just fixed it. Thanks for catching the typo.

- Pat
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0 #1 The Game Aisle 2010-10-28 09:45
The link in the article is incorrect. Here's the right one:
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