IGDA Perspectives Newsletter – Boardgames

I was published on the IGDA website on how boardgames help students learn game design. http://newsletter.igda.org/2013/11/30/hands-on/

Board games are crucial tools to educating new game developers and introducing them to the world of game design. I use board games to create a sense of empowerment among students, many of which have never created a digital asset more complex than a Word document. To most people, programming and modeling is scary. Glitter and cardstock are not. I provide a direct, hands-on experience, which allow students a sense of mastery without ever touching a computer. For those students in my class that already excel in coding, board games take their mind off “tech” issues and let them exercise their design muscles. Not only that, but we also play a variety of board games that we can break down from a mechanical perspective, then play that game with new or modified rules to test out the result of student changes. Very few digital games have that feedback loop.

Board games also reveal the heart and soul of game design. Games are not new. We have been playing them as far back as we have records of humanity. When I try to explain to a lay person the essence of game design the conversation usually starts out with the following questions. “Oh so you program? Oh you don’t? You make the art then?” Even though many people consume media and play games every day, many have no idea how we create games. Students entering the field also have this notion until they begin to break down board games and develop their own.

Board games allow students to iterate concepts and gameplay without a heavy pipeline. Nearly every successful game has a post-mortem item about their decision to prototype their game in pre-production. Armed with only some paper and pen, educators can watch how quickly student projects evolve because students don’t have to tackle technological hurdles. Part of any decent game development process requires user feedback. Board games allow students to present their game to parents and children to get feedback from a much wider audience. It also creates a tangible deliverable that family members can understand or even pull out during family events. “Do you want to play the board game Jessica designed at school?” Nearly every person alive has played a card game or a board game. Giving students the power to create, instead of consume, allows them to look at the act of play in a new way.

Not only that, but board games allow students to make multiplayer experiences. Digitally, this is an extraordinarily difficult task, even if students are creating console-style games that accept multiple inputs without network programming. Designing with multiplayer gives students the capacity to understand the effects of rules on people and how those mechanics create different experiences for different players.

Finally, many games have a social mechanic either explicitly or implicitly. I utilize those types of games as class examples not only to educate students on gameplay components, but I also use board games to bring us together in a shared experience. This shared experience gives students an opportunity to develop critical social bonds with other students with an interest in game development as a career. No online course can do this. And while playing board games at the local card shop is worthwhile, playing games with game development peers is the first form of networking that students have. We can do a lot inside the classroom, but ultimately students often make their own success. Our mission is to enable that success. What better way to do that than to show them ways to connect with other students and encourage them to create new games? Give them the opportunity to forge long lasting friendships with their peers as they enter the game industry.

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