Worked Examples and Playpower.org: Proposed Methods for Video Game Design Research
Derek Lomas and Kishan Patel
Playpower.org is an open-source community that makes learning games for 8-bit TV-connected computers, which are commonly sold in developing countries for approximately $10. First described at the 2008 Meaningful Play conference, Playpower.org has subsequently received support from the MacArthur Foundation to build a development environment for the $10 computer and host a series of international workshops.
Over the past year, we have conducted learning game design workshops in India, Brazil and New York City, in order to introduce the platform and its potential to regional development communities. This paper reports on 3 game designs that emerged from one such workshop, held in Hyderabad, India in December 2009. Over the course of two weeks, students were led through a human centered design process and introduced to the tools required for 8-bit game development. The three game prototypes were then revised, reworked and redesigned. They were implemented through a collaboration between a team of student assembly programmers, 8-bit artists and musicians, and feedback from a diverse set of perspectives at playpower.org. While these completed games will be evaluated in low-income households in India during the summer of 2010, this paper serves as an opportunity to examine the details of the design rationale underlying the games.
Therefore, in the first part of this paper, we use a worked example approach to explicate the design reasoning behind three games using annotated videos of gameplay. In this method, the game's original designers observe a recorded gameplay session and make reactive commentary about the design process and rationale involved. This simple method is proposed as a flexible approach to creating worked examples of video game design. We believe that this method shows how multiple designers can quickly and fluidly contribute to a scholarly discourse about game design and learning. We hope that this method can serve as a more rapid mechanism for disseminating game design knowledge.
In the next section of the paper, we describe how we utilized exemplars from the history of game design to bolster our highly constrained design process. Indeed, our game design process faced the punishing constraints of our 1.79MHz 8-bit computers, including 8KB graphics limitations, 2KB RAM, and programming in assembly code. On top of these constraints, we were further challenged to develop culturally appropriate games for a range of low-income consumers in India. To strengthen our design capabilities, we sought to utilize the design knowledge found in the history of 8-bit games. Our game design research methodology responds to historical examples with analogical design reasoning in order to generate new learning game mechanics. We present several heuristics that may be useful for successfully appropriating historical design knowledge into novel learning games.
The final section of this paper describes the video game research laboratory space that supports our historical design research. We describe several substantial, though not insurmountable, technical challenges that prevent a greater proliferation of academic video game design research. We then describe several innovations in process, method and architecture that may enable video game design research to play a stronger role in the various academic disciplines with which it intersects, particularly education research. We conclude this paper with a reflection on the history of research on educational game design and new possibilities for the future.