Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Benefits of Game Design with Kids

I posted a couple of weeks ago that my kindergarten-aged son wanted to make a tank game with me. I enthusiastically started making it in my head with a view to guiding him along a path to a game that had toy tanks, a tabletop, some obstacles for the tanks to hide behind, dice, and the goal to shoot each other's tank/s.

Thankfully when he and I started on the game I asked him some important questions.

  1. What do the tanks do?
    1. Move
    2. Shoot
  2. What do the tanks shoot at?
    1. Cars
    2. Trucks
    3. Aeroplanes
    4. Helicopters
Now imagine the sound of me slapping my forehead at the mistake I narrowly avoided making. He didn't want a game that set players against each other; he wanted to be on the same side as me. We made an ambush game. Two tanks were going to ambush a convoy that was protected by aeroplanes and helicopters.

The game itself wasn't innovative. Move vehicle, choose target, keep a tally of the number of hits required to destroy a vehicle, remove destroyed vehicles. We had to find a mechanical way to represent the convoy and die rolls substituted nicely for those decisions: which vehicle enters the table next, what does it shoot at if it can shoot, how far does it move, and so on.

Most importantly for me was the initial exercise of defining the game. His idea of fun wasn't tainted by his expectations of what a game should be. My son has reminded me of the value of not accepting the methods and mechanisms of other games as the only way to design, as well as the value of accepting those same mechanisms as part of the toolkit.

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