Serious Play Study Group Overview

Over the last few years we have seen the rise of “serious games” to promote understanding of complex social and ecological challenges, and to create passion for solving them. Games are being made to create empathy for marginalized people, to reveal our complicity in economic inequality and to reveal the complexity of climate changes.

Run as a hands-on studio class, students collaborate in teams to design and prototype games for social change and civic engagement. Through readings, discussion, and presentations, we explore principles of game design and the social history of games. The course culminates in an end of semester open house to showcase our games.


Learning Objectives

  • Understand what games are, how they work and why they have potential for social good
  • Learn fundamentals of game design
  • Learn how to execute playtesting and do iterative development
  • Learn to balance social/learning goals with engagement and fun
  • Using different research and design tools
  • Reflecting and effectively communicating your own learning about serious games and design


Class Schedule & Assignments

This class will be a series of relatively short (two week) class assignments. The last four weeks you will pick one game to refine and polish as your final project.

Week 1: Introduction to Game Design Fundamentals

Weeks 2-3: Those Who Can Do (games for learning) Tabletop game

Weeks 4-6: The Future We Deserve (persuasive games) Twine or Inform7

Weeks 7-8: The Game of Unintended Consequences (games that model complexity) Tabletop or Gamemaker/Unity/etc

Weeks 9-End: Final Project: Pick a game to refine, your choice of medium


Grading Criteria

The grading criteria are broken down as follows:

  • 50% Game Sprints (P1,2,3)
  • 25% Final Game (P4)
  • 10% Sketchnotes and other homework (Your lowest 2 Sketchnote grades will be dropped.)
  • 10% Individual participation in class. We will be making a lot of tiny games in class, as well as playing and discussing what makes game work.
  • 5% Team reviews

Note that although it is not included in the grade’s percentage breakdown, attendance is mandatory given the nature of a studio course. Multiple absences may significantly impact your final grade.


Please gather for your game design prototyping kit

  • Six-sided dice
  • Multi-sided dice. Like this (Links to an external site.) or similar.
  • Blank flash cards. Like this (Links to an external site.). (Daiso is SO CHEAP)
  • Index cards
  • Big index cards
  • Some chits to use for keeping track/ pieces to move on a board, etc. You can use buttons, pawns, or whatever.
  • Something to use as a board for board games. A large notebook (11×17 is good) or a flip chart. Stiffness is not important for rapid prototypes (you don’t need foamboard), but it might be useful. Construction paper might be nice.

You do NOT have to make any of your games digitally if you are not a CS student. You can be pure analog. If you do decide to make final versions as video games, you need to have them playable cross platform, i.e. from a browser, a PC or an iOS/Android device (for grading reasons).