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What Gaia taught us

20 Jun 2021

Learners and educators have spent the last couple of weeks on the imaginary islands of Gaia - mysterious, dangerous and adventurous beyond comparison. Working in small groups, our spirit animals have had to survive and grow on lands they had created. In our previous article, we introduced Gaia and its spirit animals. This time we will investigate all the ways online and offline learners had the opportunity to grow: cognitively, emotionally and as a group.


Learning through play

Spirits of Gaia is a highly interactive world-building game, which has offered many chances for students to display their creative ideas, and to develop a commitment to high-quality execution. The essentials of this project included character development, map drawing, rulebook writing, scenario design and testing - all to the end of playability and fairness. Another aim was to let children experience collaborative creation, but at the same time let them make individual decisions and take full responsibility for their own iteration of the game.

We were happy to see our learners understanding the concept fairly easily. Roleplay has many elements that draw on personal experiences, but places them in the context of a game. The character development worked well: when we created the first draft of the characters’ backstory, the descriptions were full of personality and imagination.

Game features

After having dreamt up their stories of Gaia, learners were faced with the challenge of deciding what is possible to do within the 6-week timeframe, how to build partnerships and find answers to questions of playability. What should my imaginary island look like? What are the strengths of my spirit animal? How can I build up my Karma? What does collaboration on a mysterious island mean? Shall I save another spirit animal’s life? Would it be wise to move or shall I save my Stamina? Exciting questions like these kept coming up and helped us improve the mechanics of our games.

We used the idea of Karma points to keep track of good deeds and cooperative decisions. This concept worked very well to motivate students, with them creating their own economy for it (trading, making deals, borrowing.) Dealing with Karma and fairness also led to some challenging moments, which worked as great learning opportunities in ethics and peaceful conflict resolution for every player. With the help of Karma learners practised how to make sure that not only their own character, but the entire community survives in the game.


Playtesting is a tool that learners used to perfect their ideas and rules for the game. Learners went through many sketches and iterations of what we had planned before settling on something we felt would work reasonably well. Through playtesting we learned which details needed improvement and were motivated to find a way to change those aspects for the better.

All players have reflected on the strengths and potential weaknesses of fellow students’ work. Therefore, feedback became an integral part of playtesting. Many discussions have been held on how to give and receive useful, constructive and considerate feedback.

Learning goals

Learners experienced an organic merge between the Spirits of Gaia and the Foundation courses. All our knowledge on probabilities, statistics, and problem-solving could be applied in the real world and hence became functional. We worked with stat sheets to determine realistic and good quality combinations of game moves. We used measurement to determine the distance moved on a map. Descriptive writing and storytelling pieces gained significance in the gamebooks. It was a great pleasure for educators and learners alike to experience the usefulness of different subjects in a collaborative project.

The Picnic

It was then time to present our work at our Picnic by letting visitors enter into the realms of Gaia and playing along. All who venture into Gaia should be prepared for the cavalcade of the most fabulous animal spirits that have replaced our learners, and be ready to step right into the action, putting their best paw, claw or wing forward.

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