“What’s in a game?”: The first Gameful Praxis card deck

Almost a year ago the Gameful Praxis crew created our first prototype card deck called “What’s in a game?”. We’ve been using this deck in lots of our game design workshops, and we are happy to share it. Here’s the link to the downloadable pdf if you want to print out your own set!

Here’s how they look printed in colour, cut up, and laminated. (Mmm… laminated….)

Here are some notes on what you can do with them. These are just a few suggestions to get you started and you may find lots of other creative ways to use them to stimulate thinking, discussion, and design relating to games.

Our dream is for these cards to evolve and grow through use, experimentation, and iteration, which is why gave them a Creative Commons license. (Who knows – we may even add further expansion packs to the original deck…watch this space!)

The backstory to the cards

The deck was invented in my living room one weekend in 2016 as Leanne, Diana-Grace, Dan, and I were planning for a half-day workshop we were going to be running with teachers at the ULearn conference. The workshop was an iteration on a process that Dan and I had developed and run  for the first time in 2015. The workshop was (and still is) designed to inspire teachers to dip their toes into thinking like a game designer, and seeing how game design thinking and processes can be relevant for the  classroom curriculum.

It seemed to have gone pretty well the first time around in 2015. We were especially excited that we’d inspired Leanne, one of the workshop participants, to take the game design process back into her classroom the following week with exciting results. Even better, Leanne was now part of our Gameful Praxis team and, along with Diana-Grace, would be co-facilitating the workshop with us. With new facilitators in the mix, it was time to update and refresh the workshop and think about how to make it even better.

Iteration, iteration, iteration…

Like good game designers, we were reflecting on what had worked well in the first workshop, and what could be improved in our next iteration. At the core of the workshop is a group-based design challenge, where participants are supported to “gamestorm” a concept for a game for a particular “client”, and then at the end of the session pitch their game idea to the room for some rapid feedback and suggestions for improvement. In getting to the game idea and concept, we support participants to unpack what they already know (and sometimes don’t even realise they know) about games, and to pick apart how different features and attributes of games can be used to design engaging and powerful learning opportunities and experiences for their imaginary “client”.

In the early days of the workshop, we noticed some participants seemed to struggle a bit in the part of the workshop where we were starting to explore different game mechanics and think about what kind of game (or game features) they could incorporate into their own concept design. We’d tried using a very well-known game design card deck, Jesse Schell’s Art of Game Design 100 lenses. This is a fantastic resource that helps game designers to consider various ways to tweak, improve, and enhance their game design. But the deck proved to be a little bit too advanced for people who might be taking their very first steps into game design.  I get it. People in our workshops often feel like they don’t really know much about games (even though we as facilitators know that they actually probably know much more about games than they realise!). I’ve asked lots of rooms full of educators to raise their hands if they consider themselves a gamer, and most of the time less than 10% raise their hand. I’ve asked those same groups if they know what it means when we talk about “game mechanics”. For many, this is an unfamiliar term.

We needed an easier way to get people started in dissecting and unpacking the features of different kinds of games. This is how the “What’s in a game?” card deck was born. We wanted a simple, plain-language card deck that could help people quickly latch onto the huge breadth of possibilities that games can offer. The card deck contains 30 words or phrases that describe different things that different sorts of games can be and do in terms of the player’s experience. (You might notice that many of them could also apply to other media too such as books, films, and television). Without getting bogged down in the complexities of game mechanics, the cards help people to think about games they may already know, and to think about all the different sorts of experiences that various games can offer. The cards can be used to play games – like “guess the game”, and they can be used to help in the design of games, as designers think about what kind of game experience they want their player to have.

Between the four of us, we’ve now run this workshop – or variations of it – dozens of times, with different groups including:

  • Practicing teachers and school leaders
  • Primary school students
  • Secondary school students
  • Pre-service teachers
  • Mixed groups

The cards are an optional part of our process, but I think they’re a really useful tool.  We’re always exploring different ways to remix the process, including experimenting with different ways to use this card deck.  A few months ago I even had participants play with integrating these cards with NZCER’s new Key Competencies curriculum design deck. 

We’ve heard rumours that there are teachers and students out there riffing off the original deck and creating their own cards and ways to use them. We’d love to hear your ideas about how to continue to expand the usefulness of the “What’s In A Game” Cards!

One thought on ““What’s in a game?”: The first Gameful Praxis card deck”

  1. Fantastic that you have made these cards free to access Rachel

    There is something about the “hands on” action of purposeful sorting of cards that really seems to engage deeper thinking

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