Week 3 Workshop Report: Let’s make some games!

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

We had another great workshop this week, with everyone jumping head first into game design. The overarching theme for this week was prototyping and board games, two things which go hand in hand. Usually when we talk about games we automatically think of video games. However board games are fun (obviously), inherently social and, they often inspire video game designers (and other kinds of designers too – when David and I created the pervasive game Gentrification: The Game we drew on the board game China Town). But most importantly, board games provide a great model for creating rapid paper prototypes for any kind of game you can imagine.

But before we got into board games, the first order of the day was playing a game created by Peter, one of our young co-creators. On his own, Peter had designed a game called Air Raiders and had written down the rules with Noah and Jaime so he could teach us all to play this week. It was similar to Gargoyles, but used more props which everyone liked. Peter was gracious enough to let us use our new game evaluation metric of “fun/not fun” to do a debrief on his game. Building on last week, we also added the question of “why” — why was something fun or not fun? So far, we’ve found this to be an accessible (and fun!) way to encourage critical reflection on games.

After a discussion of our favourite board games and how they can be used to quickly create and test new games, we played a board game called Hey, That’s My Fish (a wonderful game for all ages recommended to us by Stewart Woods, thanks Stew!) After playing, we had another debrief using the fun/not fun metric, this time dividing answers into aesthetics and gameplay. Next, we playtested a paper prototype of a privacy game that David and I worked on during the week. The prototype – called Popularity — was based around a fake online social game where the goal was to get the most popularity points. There were costs and benefits to various actions in the game — such as putting lots of info on your profile now would give you more popularity points, but if the site was hacked later and the information was stolen, you would lose points, and might have to do something embarrassing, like sing a silly song or wear a sticky note on your forehead. Overall, we wanted to test some game mechanics (such as actually having to be embarrassed if embarrassing personal info gets leaked) and get feedback from the group. It was also a good exercise in seeing how aesthetics can play a key part in a good game, since our prototype was still pretty barebones and simple looking.

The feedback was varied — some really liked the game, while others were bored. The main comments where that there needed to be a stronger story element as well as stronger characters. The aesthetics were, of course, also lacking since this was a paper prototype. We also noted how quickly the game became about collecting the most points because this was the most fun, rather than engaging with the educational aspect. As I discuss in the next post, this reaffirmed for us that the use of narrative can keep players entertained and engaged while still actively reflecting on the game’s content.

We ended the day by breaking into two teams of children to design and create two different “race-to-the-end” style board games, both of which we are all looking forward to playing next week.