Learning by Design – Tools and Games for Ages 9-12


When children reach this age, they no longer can be tracked as a group with all the same milestones.  The individual child has learned not only how to maneuver and manipulate the environment he or she has grown up in, but also developed skill sets that sow the seeds of future specialization.  This accounts for the greater variety of products and activities available to them.  Some will gravitate towards physical pursuits while others find pleasure in more mental disciplines.  Game play for this age reflects this diversification with myriad forms of physical and mental games children enjoy.

One of the things that games for this age group take advantage of is the growing level of abstraction children engage in.  This can be seen in other media children consume as well: books, television, music, etc.  The increasing abstraction allows for more immersive storylines as well as longer ones, which hold the child’s engagement for longer periods of time.  Thus, while there will be some straightforward linear elements in a game, the emphasis as the child ages shifts towards ones involving more strategy and planning.  The players move from straight victory conditions where everyone can see what their opponents are doing to one where multiple avenues are available, even if they become increasingly improbable roads to winning.

Designers in this age range should have enough experience with a good selection of game mechanics that include simplified multidimensional rules (where routes to victory lay in differing strategies), multiple playing pieces, and variable game play.  This is a good assortment of tools to create a large variety of game types where the designer can manipulate the math and information used in one game to create an entirely different one where both theme and rules feel unique.  The sources of inspiration will likely be easy to spot, but this is a good yardstick to measure success as you can help the designer avoid any pitfalls by seeing where they might take their idea.  The exploration kids enjoy at this age allows for designers to grasp and isolate the concepts embedded in a game system, which is why the yardstick technique works so well.  Game tools for this age include:

  • Simple card mechanics
  • Modularity in boards and pieces
  • Higher level of abstraction in gameplay using real-world equivalents (e.g. skill-focused design)

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