I am an aspiring game designer in the same way that so many people are aspiring writers. I have been meaning to design games for several years now but despite my good intentions, I haven’t found a way to sit down and do the work.
I have done some self-reflection on why I fail to start particular projects. My conclusion is that I am prone to suffer from analysis paralysis. For example, despite wanting to grow a vegetable garden for many years, it was only until I signed up with a local gardening subscription program that prescribes all the major decisions for me, that I was able to move from intention to action.
To overcome this inertia around game-design, I am going to use what has almost always worked for me in the past: I am going to write a series of blog posts on games and try to develop simple prototype to showcase in these posts.
My intention is not to develop one, singular and epic, amazing game but to create many tiny games that will hopefully improve in their design over the course of their creation. Years ago, I remember listening to a game designer once advise, “Your first 99 games are going to be terrible so you are best to get them over with as soon as possible.” While I didn’t make use of this advice, I kept these words tucked away for future use. I love that this game designer’s simple directive is a distillation of the oft-told Ceramics Assignment story.
My goal is not to become a full-time game designer. What I am hoping for is a better understanding of how I can create well-designed games for play and learning at home, in the classroom, and in the library.
But where to start?
Well, let’s try the beginning.
What’s the first image that comes to mind from the words, board game?
Chances are, you thought of something that looked like one of the boards above.
Candyland, Sorry, and Snakes and Ladders are all ‘racing games’ that are variations of ‘The Game of the Goose‘ – a game that has been around since the end of the 15th century.
A version of the game was given as a gift by Francesco I de’ Medici of Florence to King Philip II of Spain sometime between 1574 and 1587. In June 1597 John Wolfe enters the game in the Stationers’ Register, as “the newe and most pleasant game of the goose”.Game of the Goose from Wikipedia
I have played many, many, many Game of the Goose Game variations with my children when they were young. Yes, these games were boring for me but my children loved playing them. As we played together, I experienced a not-insignificant-amount of pride and joy watching my children slowly mastering the adding and subtracting of numbers. While I will always recommend playing such games with small children over making them do worksheets (*shudder*) there is no getting around the fact that these games are boring to grown ups.
And you might be thinking, how could such a boring game been so well-played for so much of history?
The answer to that question is, is the same answer to why adults (used to) gather together and play the children’s game of BINGO: gambling
I found that historical tidbit as well as other lovely historical insights into this game from this episode of the podcast, Ludology.
Traditionally, game of the goose games are played with two dice, although they can be designed to be played by flipping a coin, as this game board that I found in Villains Beastro illustrates:
Over the course of my life, I have made quite a few ‘Game of the Goose’ board games. When I was in my elementary school years, many of my independent study projects were a combination of a racing game board and Trivial Pursuit, which was all the rage at the time.
Years ago, I imagined the ‘presentation deck’ as a potential game board. I couldn’t figure out how to turn my own slides into a game, but I did create a game board using Prezi and movement cards from our Candyland set and I pitted half my talk’s audience against each other for prizes.
I will share with you the last Game of the Goose Game I made. I made it some weeks ago when I was suffering from a particularly bad bout of paralysis and thought I would try to solve it with a little game theory. I took a bunch of index cards and cut them up. On each strip, I wrote down something I had been meaning to do – both pleasant (play the video game version of Walden) and less pleasant (spend 25 minutes cleaning the garage) and arranged them on a board. When I found myself spending more time weighing what I should do next than actually doing something, I rolled a die and let fate dictate my next action.
Keeping in the spirit of my self-imposed challenge, I spent part of this morning trying to make a Game the Goose prototype using the H5P Toolkit.
It has proven to be a little bit of a challenge because the framework lacks the ability to easily import a dice mechanic into a presentation format.
Like so many other aspects of our lives, working on the game has felt like three steps forward and two steps back.
But I am trying not to forget that this still means progress.
And most importantly, it means learning.