Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game (PART 1)

In the Summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to meet with the wonderful staff of The Telling Room, a Portland, Maine about collaborating on a program centered around the creative element of video game design.  A collaboration with The Telling Room was something that I was very keen on establishing when I started my new job at thePortland Public Library in March 2010.  Their mission just about sums up why I was so eager to meet with them:

The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we seek to build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students’ stories. We believe that the power of creative expression can change our communities and prepare our youth for future success.

After an initial brainstorming session with Executive Director Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, we came up with the rough outline for the program we wanted to offer to the teens of Portland.


  • 6 weeks (October 5-November 9), Tuesdays from 3:00-4:30pm


  • Storyboard: Teens come up with an overall idea for a video game and how to execute it
  • Conflict: Why does this game exist?  What is the purpose of the story?
  • Characters: Who are the characters?  What is their story?  What is their motivation?
  • Objective: Why are the characters doing what they are doing?  What is their main goal? What does their world look like? What are the possibilities/limitations?
  • Examples of different video game styles on different video game system.  EXAMPLE: Action, Puzzle, Sports, Role Playing
  • Character development, evolution of character/story


  • Teens work in collaborative teams, 2 per team, 6 teams total
  • Exercises & games for setting up characters/back story
  • Field trip: teens will scout out locations/ideas to use in the game: use digital cameras/flip video
  • Teens do final pitch session–ask them to “sell the game” as if we were developers.


  • Once the teens have the idea for a game, gauge interest for another workshop.  This time, teens will use Scratch to actually develop the game they conceived in the first workshop

Once we digested this information, we settled on the title Game On!  Envisioning Your Own Video Game and announced it to the public with the following press release:

Ever had an idea for a new video game? In this workshop, we’ll look at what the best games have in common and then brainstorm, storyboard, and create concepts for new ones. Who’ll be the star of your game? What will your world look like? We’ll hunt for words and images–the possibilities are endless.

Our next step was developing an outline for us to follow during the six weeks of the program.  I believe this is what educators would call a lesson plan.  This was the first time I had done something like this for a program, and going into the project it gives me a sense of what to look forward to and inspired me to try out new approaches to programming for teens.  Our outline ended up looking like this:

Session One
Supplies: easel paper (Gibson), markers/crayons/pens (Justin) 

  1. Ice Breaker: Name, School, Favorite Video Game Character & Why (5 min)
  2. About the TR, About the PPL, About the workshop (5 min)
  3. Brainstorm Characters Lists (Gibson, 10 min): Name, place, etc, etc.
  4. Share (5 min)
  5. Slide Presentation: Classic Video Game Characters (Justin, 10 min)
  6. 20 questions on your character (include special powers) (20-30 min; 1 hr total)
  7. Slides on supporting characters (Justin; 10 min; 1 hr 10 min)
  8. Create more characters (20 min?)
  9. Read from/leave with handout: Heinlein, Hobbit, 1984, Potter, etc. (Gibson)

Session Two: World & Objective
supplies: laptop, cameras, hero handout

  • Brainstorm games they love & objectives & details
  • Go out into the community with cameras and find images
  • Slideshow
  • Hero’s Journey

Session Three:

  • What kind of game do you want to make your characters/world into? (genre)
  • Work alone or in groups?

Session Four:

  • Merging worlds, characters, objectives, etc.  Teens begin to collaborate on building their games.
  • Storyboarding?

Session Five:

  • Storyboarding (beginning, middle, end) first part of game

Session Six:

  • Presentations & ideas

We started by creating a solid foundation with our first two sessions and from there getting an general idea of where to take the next few sessions.  It’s a mix of planning and improvisation.  After working with the teens for two weeks, our hopes are that the following weeks will be a bit looser and more creatively open for the teens to explore their ideas for creating a game.

Game On!  Envisioning Your Own Video Game starts on Tuesday October 5th at the Portland Public Library.  During those six weeks, I’ll be sharing our experience with this program on 8BitLibrary.  Be sure to check back for more.

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