A Simple Maze Task Offers Complex Lessons about Game Design

gaming at the board
We’re still in the early stages of exploring Gamestar Mechanic as a place to learn about visual literacy and game design. Yesterday, I had my students “build” a simple maze game. Their task was to use bricks to create the walls, a single hero, a single villain, and one treasure chest somewhere in the maze. Gamestar makes it easy to build mazes. You choose your item and use your mouse to put it down. Hit “play” and test out your game.

But the lesson soon turned to one about the balance between making a game challenging and making a game too difficult to play. This is a crucial element of game design. If your game is too easy, the player gets bored. If it is too hard, the player gets frustrated. The key is to find that middle ground of being just challenging enough to inspire the player to try and try again, and eventually, succeed. The player has to have hope they can make it to the end of the game.

I brought this up a few times, particularly when one of my students took over my mac and began using the interactive board to build out her game. I let her, even though she didn’t ask, because the board is for them, not for me. And I found it interesting to watch her, as did many of the other students.

She was creating a very complex game, sweeping the pen (mouse) across the board to add many, many different things. She was working with the game designer in mind, it occurred to me. Across the room, a boy was deep in thought with his maze, carefully constructing the elements with the player in mind. His maze was carefully constructed. I liked his maze better because I was a player. I could see what I needed to do, and how I could win, even if there was a challenge to it. Her game had so many elements (she was experimenting and playing, which was fine) that I could not really focus on even where my player avatar was.
alex maze game

el maze game

What I might do different: I probably should have had them create a paper version of their maze game first, and then shift to the Gamestar Mechanic site. That would have provided a blueprint for them. But, as with some things when holidays roll around, we were limited to our time and I wanted to give them some experience before the Thanksgiving break.

On another note, many students were disappointed they could not yet publish their games to the Gamestar site. But they need to finish their first “Quest” in order to gain that privilege of being able to share their own games with others. I like that, as it not only provides incentive to get through the first part of the Gamestar system, but the system itself (a graphic novel story with games built in) is constructed to teach them all about game design (fixing broken games, learning about difficulty levels, adjusting characters and items, etc.)

Peace (in the maze),



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