Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Game Design in the Classroom - Part 3 - A Game Design Challenge

Years ago I used to organize an annual convention for game designers. At a few of the events I ran a game design challenge where the participants had to make and play a game in an hour.

I realized this could make a great classroom activity, so I modified the original outline we used. (See my notes below about how the original came about.)

Before linking to the worksheet, I want to point out:
  • Part 1 and Part 2 in this series touch on some reasons you might want to use an activity like this.
  • Part 4 is for further exploration. In it I address further development and easy ways to publish the game.
  • The games we designed were non-digital. Digital games are more difficult to complete quickly unless the number of options are very limited.
  • I haven't used this activity in school yet. I intend to, but I'm currently an instructional tech coordinator. One thing I love about this activity is it doesn't use much tech! If I get a chance to try it, I'll add some notes about how it went.
Before you run this activity in class:
  • Have a lot of components ready for students to use in their games. They'll probably need markers, note cards, paper, dice and pawns for sure. I used to bring other interesting, small items I'd find at the dollar store. Chips, rubber balls, small stones, party favors, etc., all can spark fun ideas. You can also gut some old games if you have them at home.
  • Go over the stages of the activity with the students ahead of time so they won't lose time reading details while the clock is ticking.
  • Students should work in groups with three or four per group.
  • Decide what class concept you want the game to include. For example, in math you might want them to include something about factors and multiples. In social studies it might be some aspect of a particular time period. Have them write that on the blank at the top of the worksheet.
  • Decide on the type of game you want them to make. You could give them a choice, but some limited options helps spark creativity and save time. For example, you might want it to be a card game. You could also give them a specific game to tweak, like Crazy 8's or Pig. 
  • You could dictate any of the others choices as well. For example, you might say it has to be about zombies (or can't be about zombies!) or that it must use dice in a particular way.
  • In an ideal world, I'd have them play several short games to expose them to more ideas than what they are already familiar with. That could take days, though!
Click here to see the Game Design Challenge Document. Feel free to copy and modify it as needed. I'll appreciate it if you include a link to my Game Design page on any copies.

The rough flow of the activity is:
  • Create a hook. (5 minutes)
  • Make up the rules. (15 minutes)
  • Create a playable prototype. (15 minutes)
  • Play it. (20 minutes)
  • Initial wrap-up (5 minutes)
I have some ideas for an extended follow-up activity and suggestions for further development of the games, but that will be coming in Part 4.

Notes about the original activity:
In about 2002 I came across a reference to a game design challenge in the rules to James Ernest's game The Big Cheese. A challenge like that was a new idea to me, so I contacted him to get more details. I lost the notes what he sent me, but I used them to develop an outline for the activity we ran at the Protospiel 2003 convention.

I worked with my friend James Droscha that year to tweak the directions and to run the activity. We limited the possible games to card games and we required designers to use genies as the theme. (That idea came from James' wife.)

It was a great icebreaker the first night of the convention. After everyone made a game, we went around the room and talked about each one. It was fascinating to see the ideas and to hear what worked and what didn't.

James and I used the same activity a few more times over the years. I'll mention he also lead one hilarious session where we designed a game by committee. I don't think we ended up with anything playable that time, though.

To update this activity for the classroom I simplified the language. Instead of having the teacher pick a theme like we did previously, I changed it to a class concept. 

I'll update the activity based on feedback, so please let me know what you think!

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