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Education Feature: ‘Pulling the Plug’

Education Feature: ‘Pulling the Plug’

September 2, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

Lewis Pulsipher, a game design instructor, has just published an article on called “Pulling the Plug: In Defense of Non-Digital Teaching and Learning,” in which he advocates the use non-digital games and projects to teach game design.

In the article, he explains why using non-electronic games benefits not only students, but the their projects and instructors, too.

He also describes the negative things that happen when students try to learn game design through electronic game development, namely, they focus too much of their time and effort on matters that are not related to game design.

Pulsipher puts forth six main arguments for using non-digital games instead of electronic ones:
    1. Prototyping is faster and more efficient.
    2. The iterative nature of game design becomes evident.
    3. Graphics and other visual effects are absent and thus cannot obscure the game design.
    4. More ideas can be generated.
    5. Gameplay becomes the focal point of creation.
    6. Computers can never be the scapegoats.

In this excerpt, the author discusses how the iterative nature of games becomes more accessible:

“Successful game design is iterative and incremental. The iterative process is much easier for students to understand when they can quickly make and modify playable prototypes, which they can do with non-electronic games.

Play testing is sovereign. The playable prototype is what really counts. The problem with any electronic production of a game is that it takes so long compared to making a non-electronic prototype that students fail to do the most important part of design: repeated testing, and modification in light of that testing. The students get a working prototype, play it a few times, and think they're done -- rather than thinking they’re just getting started.

Unfortunately, the emphasis in the video game industry, and in video game design books, is on planning a video game in order to obtain funding to produce the prototype. This obscures the primacy of testing once you have that prototype. No prototype is a really good game when it is first played.

The refinement process mainly consists of play testing for modifications, not for bug finding. It’s important to nix any feature of a game that doesn’t contribute to good gameplay. A non-electronic game designer can simply wave his hand and change a rule or remove a feature of a game, whereas the video game designer faces a lengthy period of software modification -- and as a result, tends to be reluctant to make changes.”

The complete article is now available for free at

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