Learning by Design – Tools and Games for Ages 13+


From the age of thirteen and beyond, the interests of the individual diversify into so many avenues that there is no way to classify the myriad skill combinations a person can develop.  This is also the age at which the most complex ideas for game design become attainable as they require a high level of abstraction and/or moving parts to work properly.  Not coincidentally, these are the same design tools used for modern video games with their branching paths and use of multiple strategies to solve intricate puzzles.  This makes it difficult to focus on any one design structure, but it does increase the level of sophistication that can be brought to bear on an idea.

Despite all of the ways game design begins to diversify with interest, there’s a few thematic elements that traverse the range of design at this point.  Most of these come down to the individual’s skill set and design processes that inform each game developed.  What they have in common is how the games explore skills in different applications while still retaining those core skills and how they translate to varying situations.  Given this desire to hone skills, it should come as no surprise that the core design tools for this group tends towards the abstract and narrative play.  These are both areas where meaningful production arise.

Creating game with meaning is trickier as the idea of conscious decision has to balance with the need for chance to play some role in the game.  Rather than being arbitrary, every choice should be driven by individual agency with decisions favoring one or another participant decided by an outside arbiter.  This is where the dice, cards, etc. determine outcome.  This isn’t to say that games that use random chance as the start point aren’t valid designs, but rather that their inclusion should make use of individual choice to plan against or utilize that random element for the possible strategies players can employ.  Thus designers from this point on have been exposed to subsystems, synergistic effects, complex storylines, and a full modularity of a game’s assets, which may be represented in expansion sets, adventure modules, or add-ons.  The design tools for this group include:

  • Decision tree/branching storylines
  • Mini-games, and other puzzles that enhance game play but are optional
  • Optional rules and components that extend the life of the game
  • House rules that modify an existing set to adapt the games to the usage of the usual players, in computer terms this is akin to “modding”

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