There are Marbles: The Brain Store locations all over the country, and there’s one family in Newark that is always up for the gaming challenges to be found there. So when Marbles announced its “Who’s Got Game?” contest this summer, David Dodson, Maria Luna and their 3 kids (a boy, age 7, and two girls, ages 2 and 10) went all in to design their own game. Their entry was a code-breaking game called Ciphexr, and it ended up being selected as one of four finalists in the nationwide competition.
They didn’t end up winning (Marbles announced on August 26 that PEAK was the winning entry), but as David tells it, the story of their game and how their family came together to create it is blue-ribbon stuff.
How did you get involved in the Marbles game design contest?
As a homeschooling family we’re always looking for ways to engage the kids that challenge the intellect, and if you’ve ever walked into a Marbles store you know its filled wall-to-wall with challenges. As big fans of the store we are on the mailing list and we learned about their latest challenge.
A big part of our homeschooling approach is via challenges. We will come up with challenges for them, but just as often they will find ways to challenge themselves. If there is something that the kids have a question about, it becomes a challenge to understand that thing and then find a way of representing that understanding. So the marbles challenge to design a game was right up their alley.
How did you come up with Ciphexr?
It took about a month worth of pondering for the two oldest children with myself as the guide. Ideas were tossed around for a while, and then it was decided that codes (ciphers) were a form of patterns that could be turned into a game. We had spent the previous month doing a lot of work with codes as both children had an interest in detective and spy work.
What did you learn that you weren’t expecting to?
The biggest thing we learned was that actually making a game challenging is a challenge. After having a basic idea of making a game around code-breaking, we spent days just trying to figure out how that could be turned into a game that was challenging. These kids have a good sense of what type of games would hold their interest on repeated plays, and it took a lot to come up with one they thought they could play over and over.
What was your reaction when you learned you were a finalist?
Everyone was screaming for at least five minutes! As much as we all would love to win, I think that moment was the payoff for everyone. For the kids just to realize that their idea had been good enough to be one of the finalists meant that they had successfully completed the challenge.