Thinking About Game Design

A leaderboard showing scores from a video game.

For my summer institue on digital games and learning at UBC, I’ve been asked to complete several “Intellectual Productions”, activities related to game design and game based learning. This is the first IP, which involved going through a variety of exercies from Tracy Fullerton’s insightful “Game Design Workshop” book. I generally chose games I had played before, with the exception of the exercise on poker which taught me that I know nothing about poker and that reading more about it only made me more confused.

Exercise 2.1

1. Think of a game, any game. Now write down a description of the game. Be detailed. Describe it as if to someone who has never played a game like it before.

Theme Hospital is a simulation game where you take on the role of managing a hospital. You need to balance issues like your reputation, budget constraints, human resources, treatment of new diseases, and equipment purchasing and maintenance. If too many patients die or you run out of money, you lose. If you keep patients from dying and keep the hospital running well, you move on to a higher level with a more complex hospital situation.

2. Now think of another game—a completely different type of game. The more different this game is from the first one, the better. Describe it.

Counter Strike (CS) is a multiplayer first-person-shooter game where two teams face off against each other as terrorists or counter-terrorists. The game penalizes you for shooting teammates or being killed and rewards you for cooperatively eradicating everyone on the opposing team. You can only be killed a few times before you’re out of the round. When you are killed you spawn to a new location. The more opponents you shoot, the higher you are ranked on a leaderboard at the end of the round.

3. Compare your descriptions. Which elements were different and which were similar? Dig deep and really think about the underlying mechanics of each game.


  • Single player versus multiplayer is a big difference. For example, in CS the social interaction aspect of the game is one of the biggest motivators. People form communities with other players and organize battles together against other groups.
  • CS is more realistic looking and allows you to move somewhat like you would in real life, walking or running in various directions, crouching or climbing up ladders. This makes sense in the world of CS since it is meant to feel as though it is really from your point of view. 
  • Theme Hospital puts you in a godlike view, looking down upon the hospital and overseeing everything that is going on.



  • Both penalize or reward you for accomplishing certain tasks
  • Both have built in parameters or affordances for gameplay that help form the “container” for what happens in the game such as which diseases appear on different levels of Theme Hospital, or the design of different maps in CS which create natural hiding spots or open battlegrounds guiding users to certain gameplay.
  • Users exercise some degree of agency in both games, choosing what to focus their attention on and making choices that change the outcome of the game. 


Exercise 2.3

List five games, and in one sentence per game, describe the objective in each game.

  1. The Sims: Stay alive and thrive while accumulating simoleans. 
  2. Red Dead Redemption: Survive and manage your reputation while seeking information to find your family.
  3. Rollercoaster Tycoon: Build a popular and lucrative theme park.
  4. Grand Theft Auto: Stay alive and out of jail. 
  5. Bejeweled: Connect the right shapes to move to the next level. 


Exercise 2.4

Can you think of a game that has no rules? If so, describe it. How about one rule? Why is this exercise difficult?

At first, I thought of The Sims, which allows for a high degree of player autonomy. Even in this case though, the game still has rules in terms of the structure of the game. The choices you can make are limited by what the developers built into the system. Even massive open world games have rules that often emulate real life, such as gravity and other particle systems which dictate how the game is experienced. It is difficult to think of a game without rules, because rules are an essential part of the world of the game. Without rules a game would not really be a game since the user would not be participating in a different world, there would be no “suspension of disbelief”. As explained by Fullerton (2018), games are “are experiences that have rules that define game objects, prescribe principles, and limit behavior within the game”.

Exercise 2.5

Compare and contrast the conflict in football to the conflict in poker. Describe how each game creates conflict for the players.

In poker, players act alone against several others. They must utilize randomly assigned cards while assessing their opponents behaviour and making choices that they know will be evaluated by others and acted on to their benefit or detriment. Players try to guess what cards the other players have and compare that against their own chance of success with their cards. The conflict comes from knowing that every move may reveal something about your hand that could cause you to lose, or that you may be making wrong assumptions about the cars of another player. *Disclaimer: after reading multiple articles on the topic, I do not think I understand poker still.*

In football, you play cooperatively against a rival team. You need to move a ball to the other side of a field as quickly and securely as possible to accumulate points, keeping the other team from taking it from you. The conflict in football comes from knowing that the other team is trying to do the same thing, you take turns being a protective hunter and then being an attacker who is being hunted. There is a sense of scarcity or urgency created because of time limits and the need to have a higher score than the other team when time runs out. 

Exercise 2.6

Name three games that you find particularly challenging and describe why.

  1. Hockey: Hockey is challenging because of the combination of grace required to skate well mixed the need for obscure stickhandling abilities. What monster invented this game?!
  2. Risk: Risk is challenging to me because of the length of time it takes to play through a full game combined with the social tension of the intimate competition. The time invested makes it truly painful to lose or to eliminate another player.
  3. Munchkin: I find Munchkin challenging because of the many rules and variables to consider as you develop your character. I have only attempted to play one time though, and I am certain after several plays it would start to become more palatable.



Fullerton, T. (2014). Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovation Games, NY: Taylor & Francis (CRS Press)/ Chapters 1-3 on Design

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