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Seems like a pretty ambitious goal, right? But I think that it’s possible to create a classroom video game arcade of six different machines for just 2700 HKD TOTAL (around 350 USD). How is that possible when it costs twice that for just one of these? In this post I’ll explain how I got to this absurdly low number.



There’s an awful lot going on in this post. I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to get bookmarks inserted here. Here’s the outline of the post:

1) Background of Project
2) Shoulders of Giants aka Sources of Inspiration
3) Twisting the Dial aka Creative Classroom Application
4) How it all breaks down (resources / steps / pricing)
5) EDIT How this activity involved thrifting

1) Background of Project

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My task this week was to explore how I could use my Maker Kit (I am working with a Raspberry Pi Model B) and apply theories of creativity to come up with something awesome to use in my classroom. And this lecture by Punya Mishra & Matthew J. Koehler was electrifying. They explain how creativity is not a flash of insight but is rather a twist of the dial (2008). You take something existing and you “twist the dial”: you try a slight variation to see if the new outcome is something special.

Working with a Raspberry Pi is going to take a lot of time and twisting of the dial. It took me most of my Saturday afternoon and evening to load up an operating system and get it running on the TV at home. (This image shows me choosing which operating system to install on the Pi.)

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Seems like a lot of time for something that we normally take for granted – you just hit the power button to turn on a computer, right? But what this machine lacks in ease of use it makes up for in price, costing just 320 HKD (40USD) per unit. Another huge benefit of the Raspberry Pi is that it can do a LOT. This lifehacker post was a great starting point, showing me an astounding number of  projects I could tackle.

2) Shoulders of Giants aka Sources of Inspiration

The DIY Raspberry Pi – or “DI Pi”, ha – project that excited me was the one about gaming. I can turn this micro computer into an old-school video game emulator and play games from my childhood on it? Awesome! As I kept researching, I found out since the computer is so small and inexpensive, you can even turn it into a video game arcade machine. How cool is that! Here are some examples (click the image to see it a bit larger, or go to the link for the original source):

One DIYer shared a really cool looking final product but also explained his process and all the different iterations of arcade machines he has made over the years:

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This author goes into a ton of detail about how he built this custom mini arcade machine:



But a video game console doesn’t need to be so fancy – it could just be a controller connected to a TV monitor:



And since the code is simple, you can even design your own games! Here’s a ridiculously simple one (albeit showing a bit of twisted humor):

Now I should probably backtrack and remove the word “simple”. To actually execute this idea would take a couple months of Saturdays! For example, to run the Pi like a Video Game Console you have to first install a different operating system. Installing an operating system, you may recall, is what took me the better part of an evening. I found this post from Lifehacker a good overview of all it would take to install a gaming operating system on the Pi.

And at this point in my research, I haven’t even started to think about educational applications. I’m just too excited about the idea of making my own video game console! My wife would not be happy with me spending over 700 USD on one, but if I could build it myself? Sweet!

3) Twisting the Dial aka Creative Classroom Application

My first attempt at “twisting the dial” and finding a way to use these ideas in a new context was to dream up a personal video game that I could actually use. A good friend of mine runs a barbecue restaurant – wouldn’t it be cool to work with him to build one of these for people to play? “Save Percy’s Bacon” would be a simple game (made using Scratch) in which you control Percy The Pig and you have to avoid farmers and eat lots of food to gain points.

But then I twisted the dial yet one more time. What if I put this into the hands of the students? If I built Save Percy’s Bacon, showed it to them, and told them to make their own game that somehow related to a unit of study, what would they come up with? If I put students into teams of 3-4, that would mean I would need six different consoles. Each team would have to dream up, design, and create the games that go inside the console.

Unit Project: Create a Class Video Game Arcade about the Major Concepts from the Unit

Project Elements:
1) Using Scratch, build a game that illustrates a unit concept
2) Come up with a title
3) Design & decorate the Arcade Machine casing to match the game you have created

This task is beautifully simple to explain but extremely complex to execute. I love it!

4) How it all breaks down (resources / steps / pricing)

To recap, then, there are a lot of HUGE tasks that this project would entail:
1) Install the right operating system on the pi
2) Create a controller
3) Fiddle with the software so the controller actually runs the program
4) Build a housing for the whole thing
5) Make my own game
6) Repeat this six times
7) Guide teams of students as they develop their own games

In order to accomplish this in a cost effective manner, I have to cut quite a few corners from the models shown above. This is not about creating the perfect video game console but rather about creating six of them at a reasonable price.

  • Raspberry Pi (320 HKD / 40 USD)4GB SD card (70 HKD / 9USD)
  • Speaker (we could use the small ones that connect to your iPhone, I own three and I’m sure that we could cobble together some more)
  • Monitor / Display Screen (my school has extras in the media lab we could connect to – they may even play audio which means we wouldn’t need the speakers) This is where I’m knocking a big part of the cost down.
  • Wires to connect Pi to speaker, screen, power, and controllers (80 HKD / 10USD)
  • The controller:
    • There are a couple of options here.
      1. Just buy a USB controller (around 80 HKD / 10 USD)
      2. Buy a joystick, arcade buttons, & necessary wiring / breadboard components. This would be around twice the price as a USB controller and require LOTS more tinkering but would look way cooler. (200 HKD / 26 USD)
  • The Arcade Machine Casing:
    • This is another point where I’m cutting cost and cutting corners. I’ll just go with something cardboard. That also allows students to add their custom design to the outside of it.
  • And to set up the software on the Pi I need a USB keyboard and USB mouse.

All told, that puts the unit price for each console at around 70 USD conservatively. Not counting the countless hours of sweat and tears!

5) EDIT How this activity involved thrifting

After looking at some of my classmates’ work I realized that I didn’t document the thrifting that I did this week. Part of my task was to explore thrift stores and look for ways to connect my Maker Kit to what I found, but I forgot to explain this. I wandered through two different computer malls in Hong Kong (the famous one by the MTR stop and also the one known for video games). I purchased all the peripherals needed to use my Raspberry Pi (USB keyboard and mouse, USB wireless adaptor, powered USB hub, and all the cables needed to turn it on) as well as two USB video game controllers (these were hard to find!). But to be honest it was hard to find everything. When I asked for the smallest power adapter they were all perplexed as to why anyone would want less than 5 volts. It even took me almost a dozen different shops to find a basic USB controller! I also saw some items that could be used for other projects, like an LED screen that I think I could find a way to reprogram and use to display something from the Pi. And I think that if I want to buy a screen for use in this project I could purchase one from the repair shops.


Retrocade.us. (2104). Mini upright bar top classic arcade cabinet. Amazon. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from http://www.amazon.com/Mini-Upright-Classic-Arcade-Cabinet/dp/B00ABEWLNE/ref=sr_1_134?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1390711709&sr=1-134&keywords=arcade machine

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2008). Teaching creatively: Teachers as designers of technology, content and pedagogy. Lecture presented at SITE 2008 Conference, Las Vegas. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from http://vimeo.com/39539571

Dachis, A. (2013, January 21). A beginner’s guide to DIYing with the raspberry pi.Lifehacker. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from http://lifehacker.com/5976912/a-beginners-guide-to-diying-with-the-raspberry-pi

Bates, R. (2013, January 9). Porta pi arcade. Kickstarter. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2103217949/porta-pi-arcade-a-diy-mini-arcade-cabinet-for-rasp

krimmy. (2013, June). NaCade. Instructables. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from http://www.instructables.com/id/NaCade-The-Naked-Raspberry-Pi-Arcade-Machine/?ALLSTEPS

Burgess, P. (2013). Retro gaming with raspberry pi. Adafruit Learning System. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from http://learn.adafruit.com/retro-gaming-with-raspberry-pi

O’Hanlon, M. (2013, February 18). Scratch – abattoir game. Stuff about Code. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from http://www.stuffaboutcode.com/2013/02/scratch-abattoir-game-keep-horses-out.html

Klosowski, T. (2013, May 9). How to build an all-in-one retro game console for $35, the easy way. Lifehacker. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from http://lifehacker.com/how-to-turn-your-raspberry-pi-into-a-retro-game-console-498561192