The blog Teaching Design has some interesting ruminations on game design from the point of view of those people trying to teach it in colleges and universities. A two part feature entitled “What Teachers Need To Know About Game Design” offers some starting points for those wanting to give their game design knowledge an academic grounding, including the anthropological explanation of the meaning of fun:

Note that all of these kinds of fun can be traced back to hunter/gatherer survival skills. Social skills are important because we can work together to hunt animals that are too large or powerful for a single one of us. Exploration is important so that we can have larger areas of territory to find food in. Collection is simply the “gatherer” half of hunter/gatherer.


  1. Mouj says:

    Who knows, i’ve never had the occasion to hunt anything in a collaborative way (never took the occasion to hunt anything in fact..), so, it might well be a pretty fun thing to do really…
    But does “fun” really needs to be defined that precisely ?

  2. Babs says:

    Mouj: It does if you want to create a game like WOW that borrows into peoples hindbrain and compels then to play FOREVER!

    In that case *fun* is the equivalent of the mind-control worm from the Wrath of Khan. Just a means to an end.

  3. The Sombrero Kid says:

    i’d say it might not need to be but it surely can’t hurt

  4. Mouj says:

    I understand, actually i’m pretty sure the fun we get playing games originates somewhere in our most basic instincts.. just not sure that i like to be reminded about it !

  5. Dinger says:

    Maybe it would have been more interesting if they did “What game developers need to know about teaching.”

    1. Love the material. Students are very sensitive to the teacher’s interest and enthusiasm, and the success of the class (and the teacher) depend on this level of engagement. You can’t put the entire team’s love in a design document (well, I suppose you can), but that love (or lack thereof) becomes apparent immediately to the gamer.

    2. The classroom is only part of teaching. Teacher’s don’t conceive of the classroom as a game in itself for a very good reason: the class continues outside. So it’s more like a boss battle, or a cool cutscene (if such a thing exists): the classroom should reinforce the lessons already picked up in the reading, make the students Most of what students should be learning is outside the class, working alone or in groups. So course design needs to focus on the out-of-class experience, and have the class meetings serve to drive everyone. The same should be true of games: the grind shouldn’t exist to space out the rewards. The “rewards” should motivate, encourage and inspire the gamer to appreciate the real meat of the game. Most cutscenes suck because they tear the player away from the fun stuff.

    3. The fastest social bond is negativity. Break a course into small groups, randomly assigned. You’ve now got a room with seven to ten groups of four. What’s the first thing they do? They bitch about the course! Almost every time! I read one pedagogical study that called this “the litany of complaint”. The course is what they share in common, and learning involves some frustration. Negativity is their common bond. So game developers should release that players bitching about seemingly pointless things are a good sign of community development.

    4. Students have a life outside of class. You can’t control that, nor do you have access to the means of determining teachers’ reputations. So acknowledge it, respect it, and move on. Professors have long fought against public student evaluations of their performance, and lost. You can’t control how a game is received by the end player, and if you try, you’ll have as much success as your reputation is tarnished (this is the ivoriest tower in gaming, right?).

    5. The more valuable the course material, the less people will want to take it. Professional training means having acquired the awareness that any worthwhile project involves preparation and work that is dull, repetitive or uninteresting to the professional. Amateurs just do the fun stuff and leave the dull crap (documentation and interface implementation, anyone?) to someone else. Any teacher could design a class that would get top-notch student evaluations: just teach the fun stuff, swear occasionally in class, assign no out-of-class work, and give everyone top marks. Every university has at least one professor who teaches such a class. But the value of taking such a course is zero. Likewise in games: the more you actually teach something, the less immediate appeal the product willl have. So finding the right balance between entertainment and value involves also considering appeal. Everyone played tic-tac-toe at some point; but fewer played chess.

  6. Junior says:

    Dinger, point 3. Does ANY company really listen? When it’s something broken or unbalanced to the point people threaten to unsubscribe, Thats the times I know they will patch/fix stuff.

    But after all the endless bitching about black & white, what does he do? Puts in an even longer and more irritating tutorial in the sequel.

    Maybe I’m feeling extra cynical today…

  7. Lady Thief Of Pearls says:

    Reminds me of my sister studying childcare. Apparently the reason kids do just about anything is ‘Exploritative Learning’.

  8. Kelly says:

    Thanks for your awesome notes!

  9. The_aardvark says:


    Evolutionary psychology ftpseudoscientificl