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Concepts in Game Design

Small seminar, Open—Fall

This course surveys the historical basis of and current practices in game design, which is phase one of game development. Just as a study of rhetoric and persuasive argument lays the foundation for effective written communication, the study of game design lays the foundation for an equally effective digital communication. While the structure of games may seem like a small fraction of interactive design, the concepts related in this class should prove fundamental to your ability to design any interactive experience from a simple website to a MMORPG. The class is divided into three sections. Part I looks at games structures, rules, and mechanics from paper to physical to digital games and examines the relationship between play styles, game engines, and level design. We will cover the rise of the experimental game mechanic, its importance both artistically and commercially, and the evolution of game play from the playground to the first-person shooter to the large-data simulator. Part II covers strategies of interaction, including pattern languages, flow, progression, and emergence. We will also read a bit about early theories of play and the strategies behind art games of the Surrealist, Dadaist, Fluxus, and Situationist movements in art. Part III examines ethical issues of design and looks at societal and cultural values that may be encoded in games, the rise of serious games, the benefits and dangers of games as educational tools, the games for change movement, social media, mobile gaming, and the opportunity that games offer as a means of activist design. Behind the facade of toy, games are templates for many types of interaction. Some offer new potential for action and collaboration. In other cases, games are a means of enculturation that transmit social values, race and gender roles, and personal and community identities. A game can be a language, an environment, or a system. Many believe a game can be about anything. Above all, a game is an experience—and it’s the experience that we're trying to understand.