About this course

I taught variations of this course from 2006 to 2014, and I have not revised the syllabus since. The course was designed to be an introduction to game design for first semester graduate students coming from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds.


The purpose of this course is to get you engaged with game design, to get you to make games critically, and to engage with the practice of design with your heads and with your hands. This is a quite practical course, in which you will be making, in groups, one game. But we’ll also be working on smaller, more focused challenges that will serve you to learn about different perspectives and approaches to the challenges of making games.

The following is a more formal description of the course, including the goals for it:

After the course, the student should be able to:

  • Conceptualize, prototype, develop and test a digital game.

  • Reflect on the relation between game design and interaction design, as well as other design disciplines, and how they can inform the design activity.

  • Reflect on the role of the designer in the production of a game, from concept development to testing, with focus on decision making, responsibilities, group-and-schedule management, and creativity.

  • Reflect on the relation between design choices and player experiences, as a central element for making innovative and engaging computer games.

  • Reflect on their individual contribution to a team-oriented game development process, using the appropriate design terminology and examples.

  • Evaluate the originality of a game concept based on design theories and game history.

  • Evaluate game concepts through playtesting and usability methods.- Structure the process from concept development to testing, from board to digital game.

  • Practice different concept development methods.

  • Practice different usability and playtesting methods.

  • Perform basic programming, art, project management and/or design activities, applied to computer game development.

  • Perform the basics of sketching, prototyping, iterative design and development methods applied to computer game development.

The course is centered on the concept development, design, implementation and testing of a computer game prototype, as well as on the critical reflection on the design process and the role of game developers as reflective practitioners. The student is free to choose genre, style, platform and technology.

We want to encourage students to create innovative, experimental games. Innovation and experimentation are understood in a broad sense: an experimental game can be defined as any game that uses either the technology, the platform, or the presence of players in a way that challenges game design conventions, explores new expressive means, addresses new mechanics or design types, or introduces input or output devices previously unused in game development.

The course has two areas of relevance:

  • Theoretical: this course will explore the relations between game design theory and practice. To do so, students will be required to familiarize themselves with a wide selection of texts, ranging from interaction design to usability and industrial design. The goal is for the student to understand how game design as a discipline relates to the design of other media and objects.
  • Practical: this course is oriented to the development of critical practice skills, that is, the capacity of creating and reflecting upon what is created.

The course will give the students:

  • A basic understanding of game design and design methodologies, from concept development to user experience testing and evaluation.- A familiarity with essential game design and design literature.
  • The tools for developing reflective practitioner skills, and the capacity to adapt them to different creative contexts.
  • The ability to improve a game design based on prototyping and testing on actual users.
  • Skills on a number of game development platforms, methods, and tools.

To achieve these goals, the students will have to:

  • Read and familiarize themselves with the selected design and game design literature.

  • Develop a number of prototypes that explore different types of gameplay and play design paradigms, and reflect upon these prototypes.

  • Make balanced development groups, with representation of different skills and goals.

  • Create a game prototype, from concept to user testing.


  1. Game Design
  2. Play
  3. Toys, Rules, Mechancis
  4. Gameplay
  5. Loops & Metagames
  6. From toys to games
  7. Iterative design
  8. Project management
  9. User experience
  10. The last 10%


Lecture 1 Game Design


  • Chapter 1, Game Design Workshop
  • Chapter One, The Design of Everyday Things

Lecture 2 Play


  • Stenros and Waern. Games as activity: Correcting the digital fallacy. Videogame Studies pp. 11
  • Wilson. Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now: On Self-Effacing Games and Unachievements. Game Studies (2011) vol. 11 (1)
  • Caillois, R. “Unity of Play: Diversity of Games.” Diogenes 5, no. 19 (1957)

Lecture 3 Toys, Rules, Mechanics


  • Chapters 2, 3, 5 of Game Design Workshop
  • Chapters Two and Three of The Design of Everyday Things
  • Avedon, E.M. “The Structural Elements of Games”, in Avedon, E.M. and Brian Sutton-Smith, The Study of Games.
  • Sicart. Defining Game Mechanics. Game Studies (2008) vol 8 (2)

Lecture 4 Gameplay


  • Chapter 11 of Game Design Workshop
  • Schechner. “Play”. In Schechner. Performance Studies. An Introduction. Second Edition. London: Routledge (2006)
  • Hughes. “Beyond the rules of the game. Why are rooie rules nice?” in The World of Play, ed. Frank E. Manning (West Point, NY, 1983), 188-199. 176

Lecture 5 Loops and metagames


  • Elias, George Skaff, Richard Gardfield and K. Robert Gutschera. Characteristics of Games. Cambridge, Massachussets: The MIT Press (2012). Chapter 4
  • Trefry, Greg. Casual Game Design. Burlington, Massachussets: Morgan Kauffmann (2010) (chapters 2, 3 and 9)

Lecture 6 From toys to games


  • Nealen, Saltsman, Boxerman. Towards Minimalist Game Design. Forthcoming in Foundation of Digital Games Conference Proceedings, 2011 (with permission of the authors).
  • Suchman, Trigg and Blomberg. Working artefacts: ethnomethods of the prototype. British Journal of Sociology. Vol. 53, No. 2 (June 2002), pp. 163-179.
  • Buxton, Bill. “The Anatomy of Sketching”, in Sketching User Experiences. Getting the Design Right and the Right Design. Morgan Kauffman, 2007, pp. 105-113
  • Lim, Youn-Kyung, Erik Stolterman and Josh Tenenberg. “The Anatomy of Prototypes: Prototypes as Filters, Prototypes as Manifestations of Design Ideas”. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, Vol 15. No. 2, Article 7 (2008)

Lecture 7 Iterative design


  • Chapters 7 & 8 of Game Design Workshop

Lecture 8 Project Management


  • Schwaber, K. and M. Beedle. “Get Ready for Scrum!”. In Agile Software Development with Scrum. Prentice Hall, 2001. Pp. 23-30.
  • McConnell, S. “Evolutionary Delivery”. In Rapid Development, 1996. pp. 425 - 432

Lecture 9 User experience


  • Chapters 9 and 10 of Game Design Workshop
  • Chapter Five of The Design of Everyday Things
  • Gaver, Bowers, Kerridge, Boucher, Jarvis. Anatomy of a Failure. How we knew when our design went wrong, and what we learned from it. Proceedings from CHI 2009.
  • Gaver, Boucher, Pennington, Walker. Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty. Interactions, Volume CI.5, pp. 53-56

Lecture 10 The last 10%


  • Portigal, Steve. Interviewing Users. How to uncover compelling insights. New York: Rosenfeld. Chapters 1-3
  • Lowdermilk, Travis. User-Centered Design A Developer’s Guide to Building User-Wedendly Applications. New York: O’Reilly Media. Chapters 2, 7
  • Saffer, Dan. Microinteractions. Designing with Details. New York: O’Reilly Media. Chapters 2-4
  • Chapters 12, 15 and 16 of Game Design Workshop