Game Design Thinking: A Rapid Prototyping Workshop for Educators

During a recent trip to Malaysia as part of Creative Culture project, myself and colleague Oliver Wood designed and delivered a rapid prototyping workshop for the creation of educational games.

“What is the Creative Culture project?”… great question, here’s a brief overview:

The CreativeCulture project is funded under Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (MoHE) under the NEWTON-UNGKU OMAR (NUOF) programme, which aims to expand the GameChangers programme, initiated at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab, Coventry University, U.K to address educational challenges within the context of inclusive learning for learners from the rural parts of Malaysia Borneo.

CreativeCulture will involve collaborations with Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), where we will explore, exploit and experiment the impact of arts, design and culture in enhancing creative thinking and development in education (primary and secondary levels) through game design and computational thinking as an approach and instrument for fostering creative problem solving and transcultural practices in Malaysia.

For more information visit mycapsule.my.

Why?

The purpose of this workshop was to encourage participants to design educational game prototypes in a compressed timeframe, in order to expose educators to game design thinking through direct practical application. The whole workshop was around an hour and twenty minutes long, giving us 60 minutes to design games, with a bit of time left over to introduce ourselves and the process, and pitch a couple of games at the end of the session.

Sometimes it can be challenging to explain the benefits of game design thinking to individuals who may see the concept of gaming as just playing, and not learning. Those who have experienced playful and gameful learning know how powerful the practice can be. But for other, more skeptical individuals, the best way to espouse the benefits of such practice is to immerse them in some form of practical application. In this case, a rapid game prototyping workshop, where the end result is an educational game, designed by a diverse group of academics to meet specific learning outcomes.

Educational Game Pitch: Creative Culture: Gamification Seminar 2018

How?

To scratch our frugal innovation itch (the art of doing more with less), the entire workshop was constructed out of repurposed physical materials, with techniques inspired by SPRINT and LEGO initiatives developed within our lab.

Designed to be deliverable in around 60–90 minutes, depending on the length of time you spend explaining the process and how long you wish to allow for the final game pitches.

The workshop consists of the following sections:

  • Ice-Breaker (5–10 mins)
  • Post-it Prompts (5 mins)
  • Creating a Foundation (10 mins)
  • Building a Narrative (15 mins)
  • Completing the Package (5–10 mins)
  • LEGO Prototype (15–20 mins)
  • Game Pitch (0–15 mins)
  • Wrap-up (5 mins)

What you’ll need:

  • Mahjong Paper (38cm x 48cm sheets, A0 will do just fine)
  • A4 Paper (for taking notes, drafting ideas, etc)
  • Chunky Whiteboard Pens (Black, blue, red, green)
  • Sticky Notes (two colours)
  • LEGO (one large Starbucks* cup worth per group)
  • Projector and Smartphone/tablet for your presentation slides (or a laptop for the less adventurous academics)
  • Humans (between 3–8 per game)
  • Download: Template Slide Deck

*Other coffee retailers are available, just pick their biggest cup and fill it with random LEGO bricks.

Using a chunky black whiteboard pen and a rule, spend a little time drawing the following layout on a sheet of Mahjong paper:

You’ll need to split your workshop participants into teams of 3–8 people, depending on the number of people taking part. Create enough game mats to allocate one per team. Alongside each game mat, provide a cup of LEGO, some A4 sheets of paper for note taking, and one coloured whiteboard marker (not black).

Arrange your physical space so that each team can group themselves around a game mat. As long as it’s flat enough to write/build LEGO on you’re good to go. Once your space is prepped, load up the slide deck (or your own custom version) and you can begin.


Ice Breaker

Inspired by fellow colleague Professor Sylvester Arnab’s flash card activity for generating educational game design ideas (props to Mark Lewis for creating the graphics in these slides), the first part of the workshop focuses on encouraging participants to interact with their fellow team members through a couple of lightning rounds of game idea creation.

Consisting of a subject matter and an existing game, teams have 3 minutes to merge the two themes together to create a new game concept. Quick, fun, and challenging, the results are often inspiring, creative, and very diverse, thanks to the mix of subject disciplines and experience within each team.

Select a couple of teams to quickly shout out their game idea. Keep it quick, you only have 2 minutes to do this. The idea is to get the groups to quickly work together, break the ice, and set the pace for the next stages. We need to hit the ground running, so the energy in the room is important.

If another 5 minute round would benefit the participants, then go for it. If the first round goes well, and the group interaction is strong, then you can skip the second round.


Post-it Prompts

Using the sticky notes, write different types of games on individual notes of the same colour, until you have around a dozen examples or enough examples to satisfy the number of participant groups you have (plus a few extra for spares).

Now, on a different coloured sticky notes to the game examples, repeat the process for different learning subjects; such as mathematics, biology, languages, art, design, and so on.

You should now have two sets of sticky notes, games on one colour and subjects on the other.

Give the teams 2 minutes to create a team name and write it on their game mat, along with their individual names.

Take a moment to give each group one sticky note from each set, which they now stick on their large game design mat in the top right hand corner, in the corresponding boxes.

If you have limited time, you can complete this whole process ahead of time and stick the examples on the back of the game mat, and instruct the teams where to find them.

Your groups may now use these prompts as inspiration for their game idea, or if they prefer, they can decide on a different subject, or game type, or both. This is entirely up to you as the facilitator. If you want them to stick rigidly to the prompts you have issued then state this while you’re handing out your sticky notes. (Basically tweak these rules to suit your learning outcomes).


Creating a Foundation

Great stuff, our groups now have their prompts and are ready to get started designing their game concept. It’s time to set some time-bound group tasks.

Take a minute to explain the following three tasks:

Choose your target audience

Who is the game designed for and what discipline are you targeting? For example biology masters students in Malaysia, or mathematics lecturers in Denmark.

Define clear learning outcomes

What will players of your game learn from this experience? This is where you state explicitly what the goal of the exercise is from an educational standpoint.

Write an elevator pitch

Describe your game idea in a sentence, using as brief a description as possible. We will be elaborating on this later, so we’re just looking for a quick, punchy tag line at this point.

Teams can make notes on A4 sheets, but should only write on the game mats once they have their final information ready.

Set a timer for 10 minutes, and leave these three tasks visible to your groups, so they can refer back. During this 10 minute sprint, take the time to visit each group and repeat the instructions, answer questions, give advice, and keep them focused on the tasks at hand.


Build your Narrative

Now that your teams have the basic foundations in place, it’s time for them to leverage their collective knowledge to add some meat to the bones of their game idea.

Next get your groups to move on to building a narrative structure for their game. Defining the rules of play and detailing how the game is to be played, through clear instructions.

Write the Rules

Pretty self explanatory really. We’re talking the do’s and don’ts, time limits, points systems, etc.

Write the Instructions

This is the user manual for playing the game. How you start, what you need to do, how each aspect of your game works, etc.

Set a timer for 15 minutes, they’re going to need a good amount of time to discuss their ideas, argue their points, structure their collective inputs, while still keeping to a strict time limit.

During this sprint session, take the time to visit each group and repeat the instructions, answer questions, give advice, and keep them focused on the tasks at hand. If you have flexibility, then you can add extra time if it’s clear people need it, but try to keep it short to keep the teams focused and energised).


Complete the Package

Now that the main bulk of the game structure is in place, let’s finish off the game’s remaining requirements:

Decide the length of play

Simple enough, define the duration or durations of the various manifestations of your game.

Define the number of players

How many people can play your game at any one time, possibly stating group sizes and quantities if applicable.

Give your game a name

Create an engaging name for your new hit educational game! Remember, first impressions count. the title and the tagline are key to drawing your potential audience in and setting their expectations of what is to come.

Set a timer for 10 minutes. This is a little longer than is needed, but it provides them with a little extra time to go back and finish and sections they haven’t fully completed, while still providing strict time constraints and keeping energy levels high.

At this stage each group should have the right-hand side of their game mat completed (or close at least). It should look something like this:

If there are a few gaps, or the teams haven’t quite copied their final ideas from note paper to game mat, don’t worry. During the prototyping stage some details may change, and their will be enough team members available to complete both sides of the game mat.

Build your Game Prototype

After 30 minutes of discussion and decision making, your teams are going to need a change, so what better way to mix it up than to throw some LEGO into the mix!

🤪 Tangent…

There is a slide in the deck with a variety of objects made out of bamboo, random I know! Before you display this slide we recommend quickly asking the room to think of different uses for bamboo. Once you’ve had a few answers, display this slide and use it to explain how something we perceive simply as a grass, can be used as a tool in many different ways.

Then describe how LEGO is similar to this, in that it is not a toy as many might perceive it to be, but in fact a tool. One that can be used in many different ways to articulate complicated concepts, build literal models, and even develop business strategies for Fortune 500 companies. (Yes this is true, learn more about the power of LEGO Serious Play here).

This will help to soften up the skeptical individuals in the room who might look at LEGO merely as a child’s toy, and not as a versatile medium for articulating complex ideas in a physical form.

… end of tangent. 😁

For the next 15–20 minutes get each team to build a prototype of their game and lay it out on the left hand side of their game mat. Their LEGO creations can be literal, metaphorical, or a combination of the two. They can build a single model or multiple aspects of their game, it’s entirely up to them.

Game Prototyping: Creative Culture: Gamification Seminar 2018

What’s most important is that they label and detail each part of their prototype on the game mat using the whiteboard marker provided. This is to give context, so that when photographing the entire sheet at the end of the workshop, the models and accompanying text can be understood and interpreted by the viewer.

Set a timer for 15 minutes, and depending on how the teams get on, you can add a few minutes extra. Don’t worry, they’ll be so busy they won’t notice, or they’ll ask for more time anyway!

By the end, with any luck, you should have finished game designs that look a lot like this:

Game Design Pitches

If you have enough time at the end you can get each team to quickly pitch their games to the rest of the room. This is great for all involved, as each team will be interested to see what other games were created. You can take the time to select a winner for the workshop if you feel like it (drumroll slide is included in the deck below, you’re welcome).

If time is short you can select a couple of teams to pitch their ideas, while you provide feedback and supportive comments. If time is non-existent by this point then skip the pitches altogether, wrap up the workshop, and ask the teams to leave their game mats in place so that you can digitise their work to share online via your virtual learning environment of choice (shudder). Or better still, get the teams to digitise their own work, and use it as part of a larger group project that you can revisit in future sessions.

If your running the workshops for academics, they can use their game creations in their own teaching, or as the foundations for a more carefully considered game design that they can build upon over time.

The choice is yours, and we wish you the best of luck with your workshops!

If you run your own sessions, or even remix this tool to suit your own needs, please let us know how it goes, we love hearing from you. If it’s suitably awesome, we’ll even feature it on our site too!

Good luck and happy gaming!