Demo Mystery Game: The Great American Ballad


This demonstrates a simple format for an online or intranet mystery game.  The same format can be applied to most educational topics. The purpose of this demo is merely to give teachers ideas of how to do it simply. This format is cheap, easy to produce, customisable, and can be scaled to any size from a single classroom to an international competition. This entire media set was created with software commonly used in schools such as animation, midi, text-to-speech voices and archival movies.

Those teachers wishing to apply the format to other topics are referred to these resources:

This game consists of three video clues in decreasing order of difficulty. I picked a topic ‘The Great American Ballad’ that teachers should find particularly easy. The very title implies that only the most famous songs would be used as examples in such a series.

The purpose of the exercize is to demonstrate the principles of transforming a task into a game. The game version differs because of the introduction of certain elements:

  • Task – the overall lesson here is not so much ‘music’ but ‘game-making’. By playing this game you get ideas for games you can create for your own topics.
  • Levellers –  ‘level the playing field’ for participants through chance components such as cards, dice, and competitions. The levellers used here are the historical versions of the songs which only professional music historians would likely have ever heard. Most players will have to search the web based on the clues. The game can also be levelled by having players produce their own versions of the song. This spreads the skills over ‘general knowledge’, ‘research’ and ‘artistic’ realms.
  • Contaminants – multimedia elements can enhance or even distract from the main message. Used strategically they can bring life to the exercize but sometimes at a price of adding too much cognitive burden. Examples include elaborate game aspects that add nothing to the topic being taught. This game keeps initial clues to brief 1-2 minute movie vignettes.

To play through the game

Follow the brief movie sequence on the MovieStorm site.

  • Clue 1a refers to this as being Game ‘1’ and the first clue as being ‘a’, hence ‘1a’
  • Clue 1b follows
  • then Clue 1c
  • and finally 1d is the ‘answer’ (the actual full song)

By playing through the above clues then going online to the search engines (or a library) the intention is for participants to follow the ‘Hero’s Journey’:“ A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man ” (Campbell, 1949).

This is a time-proven model for adventure: taking ordinary tasks into an extraordinary context. A single line can set the adventure “A celebrity is coming to town … “,”Scientists warn of danger …” “A lost treasure awaits …” . The Great American Ballad game uses a newsdesk, for example to set the stage. The ‘trials’ then consist of the teacher’s intended curriculum exercises. The Internet provides a “region of supernatural wonder” as participants look up the clues presented as a ‘mystery’, in this example identification of a particular Great American Ballad. Class presentations, reports, debates, and video uploads bestow the boon to others.

A text accompaniment to the videos is below:

The Great American Ballad: Overview (could be read out in class, for example)

Names like ‘King Arthur’ and “Hercules” are well-known. But scholars still debate whether these refer to real historical individuals. The same mystery has even attached to heroes in modern times. The first in The Great American Ballad series is of this nature. It is a song about a hero who lived in the modern era of pictures. People in modern times were tape-recorded who said that they knew him but there are only clues remaining to suggest that this was a real historical person.

The same can be said of the composer of the Ballad. The composers of many famous ballads have left no historical record. Indeed, the song may have evolved from a number of sources and there is no single person to whom we could attribute the song. It may have had many ‘co-composers’.

This is common to many things in history and science. For instance it would be hard to nominate the very first reptile or the very first bird – their parents would have still been classed as amphibians or dinosaurs. At some point their family tree became reptiles and birds.

The same logic applies to music composers. The ‘parent’ or ‘family tree’ of a famous ballad is typically a folk tune. At some stage a new set of words is added to the tune and gradually it becomes the familiar hit song that we know as an ‘oldie’ ‘campfire song’ or ‘children’s song’.  In such cases the ‘oldie’ may actually be hundreds of years old!  So the composers of the tune are long lost to history. There is no copyright, no royalty to be paid. We call it ‘public domain’, meaning we the public can all use it. But someone at some time wrote the tune and lyrics. Together those folks are ‘the Lost Composer’.

Clues to Ballad #1 as read by the avatars in the MovieStorm movies:

“He worked with steel but was not called a steel worker.  He spent his day driving but actually stayed in the same spot while doing it and was called a driving man rather than a driver. He dug into rock but was not called a miner. He is revered as a hero but he didn’t save anyone. He gave his life to a cause. Yet we have embraced the opposite cause to his and it has become our way of life. His story has inspired a novel and stage musical. A cartoon version of the story was nominated for an academy award-nominated. He even inspired a comic book superhero.  But the real man who inspired the legends remains an enigma. There are people who were tape-recorded in interviews who said they had known him. Some researchers claim they have found his name in documents. Most agree he was a real person. Who was he?  This crossword puzzle gives clues. It lists the names of most of the musicians who have recorded this famous ballad.”

The Great American Ballad #1: Crossword Clues

(printable pdf version: ballad_1_crossword)

This crossword consists of the names of the artists who have recorded this particular Great American Ballad #1

crossword for great american ballad

3.     bruce

7.     jerry lee

9.     leon

10.   fiddlin’ john

13.   joe

16.   The name of this Great American Ballad

17.   johnny

18.   pink

19.   pete


1.     huddy

2.     paul

4.     drive-by

5.     woody

6.     gillian

8.     ramblin’ jack

9.     big bill

11.   J E

12.   uncle dave

14.   harry

15.   van


Created with freeware:

printable version: ballad_1_crossword


~ by tomdotcom on January 25, 2012.

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