Life Lessons Found in Game Design

According to the LA Times, Board Games are making a comeback. At Cogswell College you would never know there had been a decline. Students play games during downtime between classes, argue the merits of one strategy or game over another, are played right alongside video games during game night events and are a mainstay teaching tool.

Every year for more than a decade Cogswell faculty, Steve Librande, has used the principles behind board game design to give students the tools they need to create everything from card games to video games in his Game Design I class. Creating board games not only gives students a strong foundation in the development thought process for any game but also teach valuable life lessons about perseverance, risk-taking and belief in your abilities.

Cogswell students – Zachary Irwin, Andrew Traxler and Aaron Weingarten – have all taken his class and sat down to share their experiences and the lasting impact the class has had on each of them. In fact, they felt the class was so valuable that they all still had their notes from the class and referred to them often.

“I pull out my notes from Steve’s class every time I start a new project,” said Irwin a Game and Entrepreneurship major.

“The class provided a lot of good basic information that I continue to use no matter what type of game I am making,” added Weingarten a Digital Arts Engineering major.

The students first learn about the 8 kinds of fun that games satisfy. Traxler, a Game and Entrepreneurship major, pulled up his class notes on his computer and read them off: Sensation (involves the senses), Fantasy (make-believe), Narrative (creates a story), Challenge (players face obstacles), Fellowship (played for social value), Discovery (exploring the unknown), Expression (opportunity to state your views) and Submission (a mindless pastime).

Each class delved more deeply into one of the concepts. They were given a new game using one of the concepts and then had to figure out what to do with it – maybe make new rules, set a new objective or decide if it’s more fun as a game of luck or strategy. Once they’d experimented for about 40 minutes, then the class talked about what worked and what didn’t and what they might try next time.

“Lots of times the game we were given was broken and didn’t achieve its goal,” said Weingarten, “and we had to figure out why it didn’t work and what we needed to do to fix it.”

After students feel more comfortable with the game-play concepts, they begin tackling issues like replay value – what makes players want to return to a game they have played once; why do people purchase the things they do and the impact that box art has on their decisions and what makes a game fun.

“One of the most important lessons we learn during the class is iteration and prototyping,” said Weingarten. “Whether the game is 2D or 3D, you need to see what it looks and how it might work.”

“For me,” said Irwin, “it was the idea that anyone can be a game designer as long as they are willing to iterate and not give up on their idea.”

“I learned that these principles are not just for designing games but are part of a bigger picture – design is a part of all aspects of our lives,” said Traxler. “It’s understanding what you, and other people, want in whatever is being designed for them.”

Learn more about Cogswell’s Game Design Program.

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