Game of Awesome

We usually hear about digital disruption, but the card-based Game of Awesome is busy disturbing classrooms around the country . . . with laughter. Thanks to some cool and crazy ideas from students, design agency Chrometoaster and the Ministry of Education have designed a game that ignites the imagination and scaffolds kids into reading and writing.

A jar of bogeys. A combat moa. An evil scientist. These are just some of the absurd and funny cards that make up the Game of Awesome, a card game available free to New Zealand schools from the Ministry of Education. Designed to inspire even the most unwilling writers, the game and supporting teaching materials have tapped into the minds and imaginations of 8- to 12-year-olds – specifically boys, although girls enjoy it just as much – to get them to start stories and pick up a pen.

The game aims to inspire imagination, lift literacy and foster a love for writing. It not only acts as a safety net for struggling learners, but also challenges more accomplished students. It is a tool for ‘getting started’, which is widely considered the hardest obstacle to overcome when beginning to write. What’s more, it’s fun and desirable to play again and again. The result: more students reading and writing creatively in schools across the country.

The game aims to inspire imagination, lift literacy and foster a love for writing.

The challenge for digital-age kids, however, was to create something as enticing as the glowing screen. The Game of Awesome stands out, intentionally, as a disruptive take on an old format – card play. Its secret weapon is more than funny stories, it’s the social connection the kids have by playing it in a group. It is bonding, affirming, collaborative and creative. 

But it’s not all fun and games. Game of Awesome is founded on curriculum fundamentals and teaches techniques and concepts such as scene setting, character development and plot. The cards can also be used independently to help students generate ideas quickly which they can then explore, expand and write stories about.

The game presents undefined pieces of a story, such as “Crisis” or “Expert”, then challenges players to choose inventive ideas from their hand of cards. These ideas then become the building blocks of stories. Winning the game involves using card combinations in the most entertaining way, stringing disparate ideas together into a cohesive story.

The concepts, spanning 200+ separate cards and four themed packs – were co-designed with input from students of the target age range. Chrometoaster’s team of pedagogical experts, game authors and visual designers collaborated to make the game engaging and easy to master, with increasing layers of strategy to keep the attention of older students.

The judges believe Game of Awesome will be life-changing for kids for whom the written word is a source of stress, not a source of delight – which is really the essence of public good in our books. It kick-starts creativity in a way few other resources have been able to. “The brash new take on an old idea makes the resource both curious and compelling to young learners,” says design director Aaron McKirdy of Chrometoaster. “And thanks to well-trodden game-play mechanics, the game quickly delivers serious learning outcomes by stealth – as it doesn’t seem like conventional schoolwork.”

—Andrea Stevens