Skip to content

Access keys for

  • h Home
  • m Menu
  • 0 Show list of access keys
  • 2 Skip to content
  • 3 Skip to top

Game design: rewards and challenges


Rachel Bolstad, education researcher, has advice for teachers supporting students to learn through game design.

Rachel Bolstad

Rachel Bolstad

Designing a fun game that has social impact is not easy, but doing so can lead to rewarding learning experiences, says Rachel Bolstad.

The NZCER senior researcher leads a project exploring game-based learning. She spoke to teachers in Wellington about how to support student game designers.

Rachel described the Future Transport Competition as an opportunity.

“The future of transport is an exciting context for getting young people to think creatively,” says Rachel.

“Designing a social impact game is hard, but it is worth doing because it enables support students to take on a learning project involving an authentic context and exercising their abilities to take action as citizens.”

Success squiggle

“You may have seen this picture before. This is what a game design process looks like. It’s messy; there is a lot of going around in circles, lots of moments when nothing is working, or your ideas fall flat when someone else tests them out,” says Rachel.

“But like any kind of “success”, successful game design is an achievement precisely because it involves persistence and tenacity. Game designers learn to push through and keep going through those messy, failing, hair-tearing moments.”

How to kickstart the game design process

Rachel says students can start their thinking from a position of empathy for who they want to play their game. See the diagram below.

Game design process diagram.

“Game design is iterative," says Rachel.

"You start with an idea, test it out, see what works, loop back and do it again. You’re spiralling forward and you don’t know what the next iteration will look like. Your plan for your game might change after the first time you prototype and play-test it.”

How the game will work is described as the game mechanic - the set of rules and conditions that create the state of play in the game. For a board game, the mechanic could include how you move around the board and what happens when you pick a card.

“As a designer of social impact games, you have to think about how the messages you want to convey are expressed through the mechanics, and the kind of interaction or experience you want the player to have.”


Rachel’s top tips for game design teachers

Do it because it’s hard! It will stretch you and your students in creative and challenging ways.

 Make space for the iterative design process. Set up conditions that support “fast failure”, “frequent feedback”, and “idea improvement”.

Play games, talk about games, dive deep into the games your students already know. Break them apart to see what makes them tick (mechanics).

Use “hacks” and “mashups” to remix game elements in new and interesting ways.

Connect with other people interested in games and game design for learning at the 2017 NZCER Games for Learning conference

Top Feedback