A Game A Day at HILT

paperpusher I’ve been blogging about Games in the Classroom here on ProfHacker for some time, and I’m very excited to be putting some of these lessons together in a week-long institute as part of the Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching institute at the University of Maryland this summer, August 4th–8th. We’ll be taking some of the lessons learned from “game a week” to the next level with a “game a day” workshop. You can see the full breakdown and resources for the workshop here. If you’re interested in trying this out for yourself, here are some challenges for getting started.

  • Game One: Board Game. Board and card games can be a great place to start, as I’ve mentioned on ProfHacker before. Before you set out to make a board game, consider playing some great games that break the mold. If you’re interested in the potential complexity of a simple system in modeling a world where rules (and goals!) are always changing, Fluxx is an inspiring choice to play. If you’re drawn to games as a vehicle for creativity, the storytelling card game Once Upon a Time works well both as a model and as a writer’s exercise. If you normally associate games with competition, Pandemic demonstrates how games can work cooperatively to model team-based challenges. Consider gathering some friends or colleagues interested in an educational challenge and working quickly to build a rough sketch-style prototype, while thinking about how you can use gaming mechanics to explore your learning objective.

  • Game Two: One Room Interactive Fiction. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Inform 7 is one of my favorite tools for text-based game-making. It’s a natural language environment, which means you write code in the form of sentences. There are tons of great games out there for inspiration: I suggest starting with Adam Cadre’s 9:05, Andrew Plotkin’s Shade, Emily Short’s Bronze, and Shawn Graham’s Stranger in These Parts for ideas. If you want to try making a manageable project, a good starting point is developing a simple game set entirely in one room. Focus on developing the objects and include a simple puzzle that can be solved in order to escape the room, thus ending the game. Reveal the narrative through the player’s exploration and interactions with the objects in the environment. Interactive fiction is a great place to explore environmental storytelling as you add more depth to the game.

  • Game Three: A Twine Hypertext. I find Twine serves as an incredible platform for personal storytelling and hypertextual narrative. Twine is a great place to explore something you care passionately about, even if in doing so you make a game that only has an audience of one. You might find inspiration in games that make visible social challenges, such as Deirdra Kiai’s Impostor Syndrome, Anna Anthropy’s Police Bear, Gaming Pixie’s The Choice, or Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest. Starting with Anna Anthropy’s  Twine Tutorial will get you started with building a framework. Think about building a game where choices are the primary mechanic, and even the seemingly smallest choices can have consequences to one’s self or community.

  • Game Four: An Academic Metagame. Construct 2 is one of my tools of choice for quickly building arcade-style games that use classic game mechanics. These types of mechanics can be the starting point for connecting a game’s impact to a player actions, or building a more complex procedural rhetoric (see Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games). My cohort in making games a week found that this type of playful making works well as a way to think about the quirks and challenges of academia. Here are a few examples of academic metagames that might give you ideas: Mark Danger Chen’s Unflappable Academic; Dennis Ramirez’s IRB Revision Game and Routine; my BalancePaper Pusher, and Impostor.

Projects like these can serve as game-making bootcamp, and are a great way to pick up a new tool. I use exercises like these as a way to introduce myself to any new software program, so I can avoid getting caught up in the possibilities of every feature and affordance.

Have you tried out one of these tools for game-making? Share your advice in the comments!

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