Game Design

Game Creation in Libraries

What benefits come from creating games?

  • The pride of creation, and the confidence boost that comes with it

  • Development of a new and valuable skill in an increasingly digital world

  • The practical application of skills and content.

  • Research and the refinement of the game, with the awareness of audience.

What toolkits can librarians use to create games without extensive programming experience?

Library game examples:

What supplies are useful to create tabletop games?


Index cards & markers

Bucket of colored cubes

Parts cannibalized from other games

Computer and Printer


Full-sheet labels

3D Printer

What are some guiding principles in creating games?  What goes into a successful or engaging game?

Best Practices for Making Games (the first six come from Digital Games in Academic Libraries: A Review of Games and Suggested Best Practices)

1) Keep it simple - This is particularly important with digital games. With one or two exceptions (i.e. Bibliobouts), the most successful online games in the literature are the simplest. "Success" in this case is defined by the satisfaction among the games' authors that the game's goals were achieved. Many of the more complicated games are not sustainable or money runs out before the game is launched.

2) Have a plan for using it in class or marketing it - Students are unlikely to play an educational library game for fun, at least not one that is within our abilities to design anytime soon. The bar for such a game is too high. Instead, look for a problem, such plagiarism, or a class where a game would be particularly useful. The students would be required or have a strong (non-monetary) incentive to play. In this circumstance, a simple game is fun without being compared to Grand Theft Auto or the latest console games.

3) Implement “gating” for key concepts - If there is an activity or concept that you really want them to do (esp. if it requires physically moving), design the game so players cannot progress without accomplishing it. This can be done through codes or making them do it again, or requiring proof of completion or something found at that location, etc.

4) Make it fun - Many library games aren't all that fun. This goes along with #2 in that it doesn't have to be as fun as a console game (really fun educational games are next to impossible to design), but don't just make an interactive tutorial and label it a "game." Adding competition

5) Provide lots of feedback - This is one of the best features of video games when examining their use for education. Video games give instant feedback. A player tries something, gets feedback on how well it worked, and either uses that feedback to make an informed second attempt, or is able to continue to the next challenge. Feedback in digital library games can include mini tutorials. For in person games, they can be in the form of finding something at a location, or feedback from game leader or other players.

6) Playtest/evaluate - This is a critical step. Most games, whether they are digital or physical, fall apart when they aren't perfect. If the game says the code is in Book A and you forgot you picked a different title and put the code in Book B, the players will be at a standstill when it's not where it was supposed to be. Find detail-oriented colleagues or students who are willing to "proof-play" your game, maybe many times, perhaps in exchange for some home-made food (particularly in the case of the students).

7) Introduction and debriefing - This is difficult with online games, but for games in the classroom or given as homework, class time should be used to provide instructions, including why you are asking them to play this game. It should also include a debriefing activity, often just a discussion, that helps students connect the game activities to what you're trying to teach them. It also gives the students to ask questions about things they didn't understand, and it also serves as an informal assessment for the instructor on how well the game worked. There are many good educational games that have fallen flat because they weren't well integrated into the classroom with an introduction and debriefing.

8) Always start with educational goals - Write the learning objectives down before constructing any ideas on what the game will look like. Find game activities that support those goals. For organized game designers who create story boards, write the learning objectives on the story board and physically draw lines to connect the goals to individual parts of the game that support those goals.

General Game Design Concepts:

BIG UNDERLYING TRUTH: It isn’t always about the game, but often about the process and growth - Making a game, a good game is a lot of hard work and takes time. Design is about taking a concept or idea and deciding how to translate that into a participatory experience. Marrying theme and mechanisms in a way that engages the players with the game. That takes practice, feedback, refinement, a thick skin and the patience to see it through. Seeing a design all the way through to the end isn’t always conducive to a library game design program (the program or project is not long enough or the classroom lessons can’t devote enough time). So, a key aspect to a design program is focusing on the growth that the people have made in their design.