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Secrets of the Parkes Shire Fun Palace: Testing Supervillain Games

Preparations for Australia’s first Fun Palace are well underway in Parkes Shire. Today, PRIME TV news visited Parkes Library to interview local kids and teens who were designing fiendish supervillain games. Over the Fun Palaces weekend, 4-5 October, local people will be free to come in and try their hand at the challenges the children have devised.

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The games are inspired by British author Louie Stowell‘s book The School for SupervillainsIt follows the adventures of Mandrake deVille, daughter of a villainous family, who wants to join the forces of good despite being sent to a supervillain boarding school. Parkes kids on their school holidays, helped by staff and teen helpers, have been challenged to make games and activities based around three different elements of Louie’s book. These are the Mutant Maze, a Giant Robot room, and the sinister Nightmare Chamber.

Children are free to interpret these themes however they wish. But to encourage and inspire them, Parkes library staff each created a prototype in the run-up to Fun Palaces 2014.

Building on the principles of play-based storytelling and open-ended learning, three staff members each chose a theme which they would bring to life. Craft whiz Sandie got Giant Robots, early childhood specialist Debbie got Mutant Maze, and branch boss Tracie got Nightmare Chamber.

I asked them about their activities just before events kicked off this week.

Sandie – Giant Robots

Sandie orchestrates a giant robot game

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

“I was reading Viv Schwarz‘s Welcome To Your Awesome Robotand Matt had told me about a pirate-ship game he’d played at Britain’s National Maritime Museum. I combined these inspirations and made a game where players had to run a gauntlet of cardboard robots, all the while carrying a delicate tissue flower across the room. The green “flower” represented a vital radioactive element.  You had to put it into a special box to shut down the robots! The robots themselves were played by other children – they had to try and knock the tissue paper out of your hand. One was allowed to throw scrunched-up paper balls at you. One could attack you with paper streamers. And the third could blow the tissue out of your hand! By putting cardboard buildings and rocks in your path, players had to think and move fast to get through the giant robot obstacles and shut down the threat to the city!

“I’m a perfectionist and very focused on visual design. My background is in hairdressing and I’m always being asked to tart up the library displays and make them look ‘just right!’ It was great to understand that these games were prototypes and didn’t need to be obsessed over to the tiniest details. The whole point was to inspire the children to make their own things, so a sketched-out, rough draft version of the activity was actually better!”

Debbie – Mutant Maze

Parkes Library Fun Palace Preparations

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

“Sandie’s activity is really clever and involves a lot of tactical thinking. I went down a different route – games of chance. I remembered the old funfair games of my childhood, where you put a ball in the slot and it came out in a random spot. If you were lucky you won a prize! It was great fun figuring out how to replicate this in cardboard.

“To make the game more compelling and tense, we added a further challenge. If you got an odd score, you were a supervillain, if you got an even one, you were a superhero: players had to say before they started which one they wanted to be.

Mutant Maze

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

“This kind of work has made me feel free to be a new kind of librarian. After so many years tending the shelves and the office, you realise that this kind of play is also about helping people to learn whatever they want to learn. It’s pure libraries, and lovely to know that we’re supported in exploring this kind of activity with children and young people.”

Tracie – Nightmare Chamber

Parkes Library Fun Palace Preparations

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

“My inspiration started with TV and movies: Monsters, Inc; the Doctor Who episode ‘Listen’, with the hands under the bed; and Sid’s Room of broken toys in Toy Story. We brought a bed into the library and made it look beautiful – but underneath lurked something more sinister.

“Players had to roll dice and their score let them choose from one of six boxes. Each box contained body parts from old broken toys. Working in teams, the players used their body parts to make a new hybrid creature – creepy and weird!

“I was worried my game was too simple, but Matt pointed out that this is a ‘sandbox game’ in the spirit of Minecraft or Lego. It’s open-ended and based around building whatever you want to build. Following our instincts, Sandie, Debbie, and I had developed one tactical game, one sandbox game, and a game of chance – different ways to play for different players! And the children were free to do something different even after they’d seen our prototypes.

“It’s funny, because at library conferences you get a lot of buzzwords like ‘gamification’ or talk about ‘the maker movement’. For a little country library it can seem intimidating – like you MUST have a 3D printer or you’re not “21st century” enough. We just won a national award for innovation, but what we do here – play, and letting people learn on their own terms – is really what community libraries have done all along. We’re just less focused on shelves these days!

“As a manager, the last few years have been about developing my staff’s confidence and skills to design, deliver, and support children’s play and the great learning families get from playing together. Whether it’s dads building boxcar racers for their toddlers, teenage zombies in a country showground, or taking part in the Fun Palaces movement, we’re pleased and proud to know that Parkes Shire sees its library as the place to come for programmes that are surprising, fun, and a little bit different.”

Parkes Fun Palace opens 10am-2pm on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th October at Parkes Library, Bogan Street, Parkes 2870 NSW. Stay tuned for a few more surprises before the big launch at the weekend!

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