Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

Physical Game Exercises


Posted Mar. 13, 2012

CategoryGaming Education


Since the beginning of the new year, E-Liners have been doing a lot of traveling.  We’ve taught numerous workshops to promote the National STEM Video Game Challenge and workshops to teach teachers about game design.  We’ve gotten a bunch of positive responses on these workshops and especially on two, offline game design activities that we often present.  In the office, we affectionately call this activities “rock paper scissors” and “baggy.”

Both of these activities are about exploring the elements of game design without digital technology.  In “rock paper scissors,” you change the elements of the game system to see how changing one element with affect the whole system.  In “baggy” (known more professionally as the Game Kit Exercise), you make a game in small groups out of simply office supplies that comes in, you guessed it, a baggy.

Both of these activities are short and sweet, but not without some deep learning.  These are the kinds of exercises that *real* game designers do to explore concepts in their creations.  Prototyping with physical materials is a great way to start playtesting a new game design.

And now, you can have the “rock paper scissors” and “baggy” exercises for your very own classroom!  Follow the link here to the Learning Guide and check out the new lesson plans under “Lessons on Game Design.”  These are great preparation lessons for starting out a game design unit (and also great to do if you don’t have access to computers or Internet for a class).  Enjoy!

3 Responses to “Physical Game Exercises”

KathleenMay 12th, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I tried the “baggy” project with a 6th grade this week who had some degree of experience with game design already (it was a demo lesson, so I didn’t know them), and I’m trying to figure out now why it totally bombed. I planned it out really thoroughly, giving each team 4-5 specific jobs (space/component designer, rules/intro writer, supporter/reporter, general contractor, and goals/mechanic designer), using the same timeline and materials the lesson recommends, giving them a list of basic board game structures (race, pattern build, battlefield) they might use, and giving them the focus that the game had to relate in some way to something they’d learned together this year.

Most groups had a *lot* of difficulty working together and generating ideas that they could agree on, and in one hour we didn’t have enough time to develop, play-test, give feedback, and discuss. Only 2 or 3 out of 5 teams really developed something playable.

I wonder how you have students collaborate. Do you assign each student a specific job or let each team work that out? And the candy in the bag? It went against my better judgment, but you’ve tried and tested to develop the best collection of materials, so I went ahead with it. How do you give a Starburst and Smarties roll to five 6th graders and not spend the period on conflict resolution?

I’d be grateful for any other details you can provide on your process and methodology here, or any possible insight that might help me retool the lesson in the future. Thank you!

katyaMay 14th, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Hi Kathleen,

Thanks for sharing your experience! When I do the baggy exercise, I structure it much less than you do. I do not assign roles to any group members, and I don’t even give them any general goals (i.e. “make it a racing game” or “make it about something you’ve learned this year”). Usually this activity is to help students start thinking about game design as a set of larger choices, but not about delving into the specifics (like writing rules or designing space). I’ve found it very effective to put kids in groups of 2 to 4 and tell them they have 20 minutes to make a game – the game doesn’t have to be finished or perfect, but it has to at least demonstrate the beginnings of an idea. Usually students design something simple, like moving pieces around a game board, or flinging pennies into a cup. After they’ve designed, we talk about how they came up with their ideas. Did they think about a mechanic first (like “flinging” or “racing”)? Did they think about a component first (like “Let’s use the rubber bands!”)? Did they think about game space first (like using the stickers to make a maze)? We deconstruct the process of designing the game. The design activity itself is very free form and no pressure.

As for the candy, more often than not I see students use the Smarties as player pieces (especially because the Smartie colors usually match the sticker colors). The Starburst sometimes gets used as a component, but usually ends up being a prize for the winner, which can lead to an interesting conversation about rewards. I haven’t had any fighting over candy, but you can use your own judgment with your group of students to assess if they can handle including the candy or not.

Please let us know if you do this exercise again and how it goes! I’d suggest using it in a super unstructured manner with a group of beginners. Good luck!

KathleenMay 17th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Thanks, Katya! It’s funny: I’m usually way more unstructured, but I hyper-structured this one b/c it was a demo. I’ll use your suggestions with my own kids and let you know how it goes. Sounds like more fun and better opportunity for reflection.
Thank you!

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