Less is more in game design

Recently I’ve been working with a few different people designing games and game-based activities, and it struck me that one of the big mistakes that people make when trying to design a game for the first time is to over-complicate things. A lot of what I do with people when designing games is try and strip back to the elements to the bare essentials: what is absolutely essential to meet the learning outcomes while still maintaining a robust game dynamic? I think that once that’s in place, other elements (or ‘colour’) can be added in if necessary.

This approach may well be specific to educational games, as the primary purpose of this type of game has to be to meet the desired learning outcomes, and a game with a sound mechanic shouldn’t need much padding. I don’t want players getting bogged down with rules and distractions; I want them to focus on the core of the game (although I will admit that I am always keen to add in an element of sabotage). This is why, when recently saw some of Paul Ladley‘s work developing and using games for education, it was like a breath of fresh air. Paul’s approach is to use simulations in workshop settings, employing the computer for what it is good for (fast calculations, displaying dynamic data) and keeping everything else simple. If you want to make a decision, you record it on paper; if you want to talk with another team, you walk over and talk with them. I particularly like this approach because it doesn’t depend on expensive software with unnecessarily high production values, but really focuses on the learning outcomes, and how they can be achieved as simply as possible.

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