Honrs390E: Serious Game Design, Fall 2014

Course Information

Course Title
Honors Colloquium: Serious Game Design
Honrs390G 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. Your efforts will culminate in the creation of an original educational game.

As we begin our studies, our use of the word "game" is inclusive of card games, board games, sports, video games, and role-playing games. We will refine this definition as we progress. In our design process, we will give preference to lightweight physical prototypes for several reasons: they are quick to construct, they are effective for testing ideas, and they are accessible to anyone. If you know how to program or wish to learn how to program in order to create digital prototypes, you are welcome, but there is no expectation that everyone have skill or interest in digital prototyping.

Required Books

During the semester you may incur additional expenses for reference material, prototyping supplies, and travel—likely no more than $50. Please budget accordingly.


The course will be divided into two units. The first five weeks will be an introduction to game design and the science of learning. The remaining ten weeks will be a design workshop through which you will iteratively design an original educational game.


The expected schedule for the first five weeks is given in the following table. Any modifications will be announced in class.

For this meeting... Prepare the following:
Wednesday, August 20
Monday, August 25
Wednesday, August 27
  • Read Koster Chapters 1–5.
  • To facilitate discussion, bring at least two critical observations from the reading and/or questions about it.
Wednesday, September 3
  • Read Koster Chapters 6–9 and prepare two discussion items as described above.
Monday, September 8
  • Play a different kind of game than you did in week 2. For example, if you played an online video game, try a board game or a sport.
  • Write a critical analysis in the format described in Game Design Concepts Level 3, posting the analysis to the discussion board.
  • Prepare a poster summarizing your analysis.
Wednesday, September 10
  • Read the remainder of Koster, bringing notes as above.


The last ten weeks of the semester will be our "workshop" period. In our first meeting of each week, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate artifacts that represent your efforts. There are two primary artifacts:

Game Concept Documents
A game concept describes an idea for a game. It is, in part, a "pitch" that gets other people interested and invested in your idea. We will use Tim Ryan's format for game concept documents. Concept art is mandatory, but it will only be judged on rhetorical effectiveness—their ability to convey the idea—not artistic merit. Game concept documents should be posted to the discussion board.
To present a game concept in class, prepare a poster that highlights the critical elements.
Game Prototypes
A game prototype is a playable version of a game that is still in development. It may not have all the features planned for the final version, but the prototype is still a potentially-shippable product. Prototypes are the answer to design questions. You should expect to spend four to six hours on each iteration a prototype.

We distinguish between two kinds of prototypes:

Initial prototypes
These prototypes are based on game concepts that were previously presented in class by you or someone else.
Iterated prototypes
These prototypes are based on earlier prototypes, which themselves may have been initial or subsequent.

A prototyping iteration is incomplete until the prototype is tested. Testing can be done internally (by you) or externally (with other people). The best form of testing involves users from the target demographic; we will call this authentic testing of the prototype.

To present a prototype in class, either bring the prototype itself or a poster summarizing critical aspects. Your presentation must address the following questions:

Final Deliverable

By the end of the semester, you will choose one of your prototypes—ideally, the one with the most potential for publication—and submit it as an example of your best work. For physical games, this deliverable should be a set of PDF documents that someone can use to recreate your prototype in a “print-and-play” fashion. For digital games, the source code and assets can be used as a deliverable along with a rulebook, unless the rules are explained within the game itself. Consult with the instructor if there are any doubts what form your deliverable should take.

Scheduling Miscellany

Other potentially important dates:

We will have our last meeting during our final exam period, 2:15–4:15 on Friday, December 12.


Your grade will be based on your commitment to following good practices of game design and contributing to the learning community. To receive an A, B, or C in the course requires full and active participation in the first five weeks of the course.

The following table describes the expected activities by letter grade for the workshopping period.

Letter Grade Game Concepts Iterated Prototypes Authentic Testing Sessions Achievements Deliverables

Notice that the table lists iterated prototypes, each of which must be rooted in an initial prototype. Hence, the minimum number of prototypes required to earn a C or better grade is four: one initial followed by three iterations on it. It is not necessary that all subsequent prototypes start from the same initial prototype, but it is recommended: you will gain more experience refining a single game design than you will by shallowly exploring many.


Above-average grades require the completion of achievements, which are described below.

You may only present one concept, prototype, or achievement per week.


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. We will have a class meeting during the university-scheduled final exam slot, as required by university regulations. As of this writing, the date and time are yet to be determined.

Attendance and Related Policies

Your meaningful engagement with our learning community is expected. You benefit by gaining a deeper understanding of the critical ideas of our course as well as from the feedback of peers and experts. The community benefits by hearing your thoughtful responses to their presentations.


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 you wish to make an appointment to meet outside of office hours, 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.

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.


We will be using Google Docs and other connected technologies to coordinate community activity. If you do not already have a Google account, you will need to create one. Using two-step verification is strongly recommended.

All students have free access to The Writing Center.

Notice for Students with Disabilities

If you need course adaptations or accomodations because of a disability, please contact the instructor as soon as possible. Ball State's Disability Services office coordinates services for student with disabilities; documentation of a disability needs to be on file in that office before any accomodations can be provided. Disability Services can be contacted at 765-285-5293 or dsd@bsu.edu.

Image Credits