Carnegie Mellon University – School of Art
Professor: Paolo Pedercini
Course number: 60427
Classroom: CFA 307 + CFA 318 (Mac Lab)
Time: Tuesday and Thursday 06:30PM 09:20PM
Office: CFA 419A – 4th Floor
Office hours: By appointment
Email address: paolop [at] andrew [dot] cmu [dot] edu

All playthings*, from folk games to computer games, emerge from a stratification of efforts, design iterations, house rules, play testing, successful patterns that crystallize into genres and conventions, intentional transgressions and subconscious inspirations.

In this course we will approach game design as an act of critical inquiry: transforming and subverting playable artifacts, injecting “reality” into games and games into “reality”, interrogating gaming culture and its impact in society.

Activities include analog and digital design exercises, workshops/playshops, readings, and in-depth analysis of works from the digital arts and the independent gaming world. The first half of the semester consists in conceptual design exercises while the second half will be hands-on digital game development.

*I use the word playthings to encourage the exploration a wide range of form, not limited to computer games: algorithmic performances, toys, interactive art, playful installations etc…



Before becoming critical game designers we must become critical players.
Mis-play a game of your choice by acting against the intention of the designer or by exploring/exploiting the limits of its system. Try to achieve an aesthetic goal or provide insights on the game itself.
Document your intervention through video and/or screenshots.

Works/case studies: Prepared Playstation, My Trip to Liberty City, Suicide Solution, Dead in Iraq, The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, Pacifist Runs, Skate 3 Compilation, Breaking Madden, Magnasanti, Gold Farming.

On game boundaries: Invisible Walls, Puffy Clouds, and the Unheavenly World Behind Them.

What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? by David Graeber
Play is by Miguel Sicart

Designing for subversive/creative play, implementing unenforceable rules:
draw something, drawception, TmVille, Chicanery, J.S. Joust, Space Team, Fingle, Bounden, Ninja.


Many classic board games are imbued with conservative values to make them palatable despite their poor designs. After analyzing patterns and mechanics from contemporary euro-style games, redesign an old classic addressing the problems affecting both gameplay and theme.
Groups of 2-3.

Games to mod:
Monopoli – Make it shorter, skill based and without a dominant strategy.
Risk – Make it shorter and avoid petty diplomacy.
The game of life – Make it non-normative.
Candy Land – Make it deep and strategic.
Singing chairs – Make it non-violent/inclusive.
Any non digital game – analyze a game according to Roger Callois’ 4 elements of play (Agon, Alea, Mimicry, Ilinx) and redesign it with “inverted” components (e.g. skill-based slot machine…)
Bonus – board game archeology: starting from a picture or game materials, design a game around it.

Games/case studies: LOTR the confrontation, Lost Cities, Modern Art, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Zooloretto, Animal Upon Animal, Corporate America, Escape: The Curse of the Temple, Train, 3 Players Chess.

A people’s history of board games: from the Landlord game to Freedom: the underground railroad.

A Game Design Terms: Skill vs chance, theme and gameplay, meaningful choices, hidden information, heuristics, politics, targeted interaction, kingmaking and 3 player problem, cooperative games and roles, snowballing and catch-up, elimination and griefing, multiple paths to victory, downtime and busywork, materials and tactility.

Playshops: 5 fingers by Eric Zimmerman, Seller and Buyers by Naomi Clark, Mafia/Werewolf, RPS tag, 2 Rooms and a Boom, Games and complex systems: the fishing game.


Games are experiences governed by rules, like many non-playful activities. Find a real world system or an activity that can be turned into a game. Alternatively, devise a challenge that can create an interesting situation in a public space. Does it reveal something about the activity or context? Does it encourage a different kind of behavior or interaction?
Groups of 2-3.

Additional prompts:
-Signs transforming a space into playground
-Game involving unaware non-players
-Secret messages hidden in plain sight
-Ambient game
-Game for a specific social situation
-Behavior changing game

Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play – Guy Debord
Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world – TED talk
Gamification and Governmentality – Niklas Schrape

Case studies: Tommy Guerrero – Future Primitive – 1985 , Jump London – Parkour, Flashmobs, Camover, Tagging the City by Ludic Society, Metakettle by Terrorbull games, SuperBetter, SF0.


“Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It holds tight an author’s phrase, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, and replaces it with just the right idea”.
In this unit we will learn the basics of Unity development by remaking classic 2D games and by modding them beyond recognition.
Groups of 2-3.

Artist Mods: Ars doom by Orhan Kipcak, Museum Meltdown by Tobias Bernstrup & Palle Tornsson, SimCopter hack by Jacques Servin, retroYou R/C by retroYou, nostalG by retroYou, SOD by Jodi, Quilted Thought Organ (‘QTHOTH’) by Julian Oliver, Untitled Game by Jodi, Adam Killer by Brody Condon, Super Mario Clouds by Cory Archangel, q3apd by Julian Oliver, Super Mario Battle no.1 by Myfanwy Ashmore.

Autism – turn a single player into multi player game
Joystick envy – gender swap a game
Militarism – turn a shooting game into a “pacifist” game
Frenemies – turn a competitive game into a co-operative game
Juicyness – turn a dull game into a “juicy” game
Flow – turn a hard, stressful game into a “nicer” game
Adaptations – make Atari’s E.T. good and more consistent with the movie

Playshop: computerless modding workshop.

Indie games – new retro: Braid, Everyday Shooter, Warning Forever, Super Crate Box, Luftrauser, ROM CHECK FAIL, Nidhogg, Sword and Sworcery, Cart life, Triad, Canabalt, Corrypt, Psychosomnium, Plasma Pong, Mondo Medicals.

The humor and existential horror of physics games
Works: Qwop, Stair dismount, Flappy bird, Not Tetris, Tug the Table, How do you do it, Envirobear, Crayon physics, Tower of goo, Incredipede.

Expanding the game design vocabulary: Game Feel, Juicyness, Flow, Ludo-narrative Dissonance. Clones: Flappy bird, 2048 and Threes. When is a clone – Raph Koster

Assignment: values/politics in games, analyze a game.


The final project must be a complete, playable game that builds upon your most successful prototype so far. Completely new and unrelated projects are discouraged but negotiable.
Groups allowed.


I’ll be out of town in the following days:
Thursday September 4th – you’ll come to class for an intensive self managed board game session.
Thursday September 25th – class is canceled, we’ll go to Best Game Fest the week before instead.

Best Game Fest – September 20
Participate in at least 3 games and write a report.

Visit to Rivers casino – with selected readings from Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schull
Produce a response in any form: study of the machines, anthropology, poetry, performance, essay, video essay.

Visit to Pinball Perfection (A Friday Night)
Draft a sketch for an alternative/arthouse pinball machine.


Subversive play: 10%
Fixing board games: 20%
Gamify Everything!: 20%
Game Luddites: 20%
Final Project: 20%
Writings, class participation: 10%

For each game assignment the deliverables are:
– Game materials: executable if digital, game bits and complete rules if non digital
– Documentation: Title + one paragraph description + screenshots, photos or video
– Statement or post-mortem: one page description of the process, goals, iterations, and observation from play testing


Upon completion of the course students will (hopefully) be able to:

* Create expressive and meaningful games and interactive artifacts

* Critically analyze the mechanics and apparatuses of videogames including their ideological and cultural underpinnings.

* Deconstruct and actively engage with narratives of technological advancement in electronic entertainment

* Discuss their work in the context of new media art and/or in relation with mainstream cultural production.

* More in general, Things that college should teach students


* Being passionate about game might help but please keep in mind this is not a class for sharing our love for video games or video game culture. We’ll try to approach the subject critically and focus on cutting-edge developments at the margins of the mainstream game industry.

* This is an art course and CMU School of Art is focused on conceptual practice, it means that your primary goal will be to create meaningful, personal and unique works – not necessarily elegant, balanced, well designed, entertaining products. More industry-oriented game design classes are offered by the ETC.


* Attendance: three or more unexcused absences result in the drop of a letter grade.

* Absences:
you are responsible for what happens in class whether you’re here or not. Organize with your classmates to get class information and material that you have missed.

* Participation: you are invited, encouraged, and expected to engage actively in discussion, reflection and activities.

* Net addiction:
you can exist for few hours without twitting, facebooking, chatting, texting or emailing. Any device for mediated communication is banned during theory classes, crits and discussions. A 1% grade reduction will result from being found using them.
During the lab hours you will be allowed to network as long as your behavior is not disruptive.

* Assignments: late assignments are only accepted with permission of instructor. You lose 10% of your points per day late up to a max of 7 days late.

* Tardiness: 1st tardy = free.
Less than 10 minutes late = 1% grade reduction.
Over 20 minutes late = absence (unless justified).