Honrs390E: Serious Games with the Indianapolis Children's Museum, Fall 2013

Course Information

Course Title
Honors Colloquium: Serious Games with the Indianapolis Children's Museum
Honrs390E Section 1
MW 4:00–5:15 PM in BA117
Paul Gestwicki, Ph.D.


A "serious game" is a game that is intended to have an impact beyond the play experience. While there are many kinds of serious game, the most common is educational games. In this colloquium, we will study the relationships between games, fun, and learning in collaboration with the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. We will work with Children's Museum staff to understand their desires and constraints with respect to game-based learning.

Our inquiry this semester will center around the following essential questions:

Note that, because this is a three-credit course, you should expect to invest nine hours peer week of attention to it.


There are no required books for this class. Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design is strongly recommended reading.


The semester is divided into three chunks: an introduction to games, fun, and learning; rapid ideation of serious game designs; and multiple iterations on one game design. We will be engaged in different activities during these chunks, but the anticipated rhythm of our interaction will remain the same: the first meeting of each week will be devoted to formal peer and expert critiques of student-created artifacts ("crits"). The second meeting of each week will be used for enrichment activities or further crits, depending on the needs of the class.

Week starting Focus
August 19 Introduction: a crash course in games, fun, and learning
September 16 Rapid Design Studio: sketching a new game design each week based on shared themes
October 21 Iteration Studio: Test, revise, repeat on game prototypes

Other potentially important dates:


Your grade will be based on the achievements and stars that you earn during the semester and your reflections on these experiences. You are responsible for ensuring that the achievement criteria are adequately met with appropriate attention to clarity, content, and form.

Reflections are written after completing all criteria of an achievement, and they provide an opportunity for you to focus on what you learned through the process. Reflections will be evaluated using my triage grading rubric based on the following criteria; it is strongly recommended that your reflection be formatted in three paragraphs, one for each criterion.

Each reflection is worth up to nine points. You may submit up to two reflections per week; details and deadlines will be posted on Blackboard. If you are not sure where to start, I recommend beginning with one of the Games Analyst achievements or the Explorer achievement.

Note that there are five categories of achievements. Those in the first four categories can only be claimed during the corresponding weeks of the class. The last category contains those achievements that have no calendar restriction.

You may revise and resubmit your reflections. Each time you submit a revised reflection, you enter a "cooldown" period and may not submit another revision for the next ten university business days (that is, not counting days in which there are no courses). Revised reflections must identify how feedback was incorporated into the revision.

Your final letter grade will be determined according to the following table. Note that to be eligible for a letter grade, you must satisfy the minima in each column.

Letter Grade Minimum Achievements Minimum Stars Minimum Points


Games approval process

When analyzing games, you can always choose one from the resources section below without requiring any special approval. In all other cases, to recieve approval, email the instructor your request along with the following:

This process is mostly a formality, but it provides me an opportunity to help you experience appropriate breadth and depth in your studies.


The following games are available through the library, either through course reserves or the educational resources collection. I have given my interpretation of each game's "complexity" as a measure of the number of interacting systems within the game. More complex is not better, nor is less complex worse—it is a matter of preference. These games represent a range of mechanics and theme; additional games can be acquired or made available during the semester based on your own creative and scholarly needs.

Note that for all of these games, regardless of complexity, it is strongly encouraged—nigh mandated!—that all potential players take a moment to review the rules prior to meeting. Rulebooks and video tutorials are available online for most games.

These analog games are provided for your study and enjoyment. There is a plethora of free digital games available online, and although the university library does not have a collection of digital games, the Muncie Public Library does.

You should be aware that playing a game once gives you only a taste. Be wary of any attempt at critical analysis that relies on partial plays, single plays, or rules misinterpretations.


Traditional examinations are not expected for this class, although the instructor reserves the right to modify the pedagogy to serve the needs of the class. Note that we will have a class meeting during the university-scheduled final exam slot, as required by university regulations. This meeting will be Friday, December 13, at 2:15 PM.

File Formats

All files must be submitted in open file formats. Good examples include HTML, PDF, OpenDocument, and my personal favorite, plain text.

Attendance and Related Policies

We will be following a studio model, and having full participation by everyone in the studio is going to be essential. Your attendance and attention are expected, and you should be prepared to begin participating as soon as the scheduled start time arrives.

You are responsible for your learning regardless of attendance. If you miss a class meeting, you should consult with trusted classmates to ensure you have the appropriate notes.


Office Hours and Appointments

Students who come to office hours are helped on a first-come, first-served basis; no appointment or prior contact is required. If a student wishes to make an appointment to meet outside of office hours, he or she should email the instructor the request along with several possible meeting times.


All email communication to the instructor should be from a BSU-affiliated address. This policy ensures that senders can be correctly identified and protects your privacy. Email sent from other domains may not be answered.

The instructor may access email through services not affiliated with the University. Please note that such messages necessarily pass through the campus firewall in an unencrypted format, and they may be stored on servers not owned or managed by Ball State University. It is therefore advisable to restrict confidential information to office hours or appointments.

If you are emailing regarding questions in a computer program, it is recommended that you send a copy of the code in question in your email. The preferred method is to copy the code into the body of your message, using plain text and following standard formatting conventions. Alternatively, if the code is in a publicly-readable repository, email the URL.


Although the instructor's office telephone number is listed, email and face-to-face communication are strongly preferred. Telephone messages are not guaranteed a response.

Academic Integrity

Students and faculty are bound by the Student Academic Ethics Policy of the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

Intellectual Property

It behooves you to be aware of fundamentals of copyright law and the university's intellectual property policies for student-created work.


All students have free access to The Writing Center.

Notice for Students with Disabilities

If you need adaptations or accomodations because of a disability, if you have emergency medical information to share with the instructor, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment as soon as possible.

Image Credits