Practical Advice for Teaching Gaming Design

Video game employment in the United States has grown over 8% in 2023 alone. Preparing students for this growing industry is complex, requiring educators to teach students technical mastery, storytelling skills, and artistic flair. David Manning knows how difficult teaching gaming design can be.

David currently works as a Content Developer at Certiport, and has eight years of experience in the classroom, serving as the Academy Director for Game and Simulation at University High School in Orange City, Florida. During our CERTIFIED Academy: Design webinar, we asked David to share his practical advice for teaching gaming design and Unity skills in the classroom.

No Such Thing as “One Size Fits All”

Different students have different needs, and so your gaming curriculum cannot be a “one size fits all” curriculum. David said, “In my classroom, I’ve seen the full spectrum of experience with gaming and technology. Some of my students don’t know how to type on a keyboard or work on a desktop. Others come in with coding experience, having mastered JavaScript and C++, telling me they’ve already designed a few games.”

As a teacher, you must know how to adapt your curriculum to fit the needs of each individual student in your classroom, from beginners to experts. The ultimate customization comes when you truly build rapport with each student in your class. When you have a relationship with each learner, you know how they’re progressing, what they’re struggling with, and what they’re excited to learn. David expanded his advice, “If you take the time and effort to build rapport with your students, they’ll do the work. They’ll dive into the hard topics and stay engaged.”

Don’t Allow Bad Habits to Form

Helping students master gaming design starts with mastering the basics. Students who get lazy with their coding will likely run into larger issues later, because their problems started at the beginning.

“My students were always shocked at how strict I could be about coding and design rules. At the start of the semester, I would mark students down substantially if their code didn’t match the specs I requested. My students thought it was harsh, but I told them that it’s important to get good habits built from the very start. The same applies for their artistry and gaming structure,” said David. Breaking a bad habit is a lot harder once it becomes a learned behavior, so make sure they create good habits from the start.

Play Games

Help students see the benefits of good habits by playing fully developed games. David firmly advocates for gaming together with your learners, saying, “As an adult, when you play games your students are interested in, you’re creating a bridge of connection, again building that rapport and having fun! You can also make it a meaningful learning experience by helping students apply a critical eye to what they’re enjoying and reinforce principles you’re teaching in class.”

Gaming doesn’t need to just happen during class. Start a game club for students to join during lunch or after school. In his classroom, David opted to charge a nominal fee to make sure students were truly invested, and to cover costs of equipment and new game releases.

You can even take the gaming outside the classroom, by connecting with developers at gaming conferences and other industry events. You’ll be able to help students see what’s happening in the gaming industry while also giving them a behind the scenes look at games being developed and released.

Be Prepared for Technology Issues

Sometimes, a gaming classroom isn’t all fun. Loss of internet and other technology issues can occur, especially with more platforms moving to the cloud. David knows this pain all too well. He said, “I had to make sure I was prepared with alternative options, for days where we had internet hiccups or power issues. I had a bank of offline lessons or assignments created. I loved having students make a board game or play a board game and discuss the gameplay mechanics. We’d discuss how this board game could be turned into a digital game. Another favorite of mine was to create a Jeopardy game, where students define common gaming terms that we’d been discussing in class.”

One way to mitigate technology issues is to make friends with your IT team. Many IT teams may block relevant tools or website that you use in gaming. Connect with them before each semester, so they know what sites and tools you’ll need to access. Ensure that your hardware also meets your needs, with key items like a video card and sufficient storage. By establishing your needs early in the course, you’re able to stave off issues that may pop up later.

Get Students Moving!

Getting creative with offline assignments helps you see that not all game design teaching happens in front of a screen. “My students were much more likely to remember a lesson where we were up out of our seats, moving around. Getting them to use multiple senses increases the likelihood that they’ll remember the concept your teaching,” said David. “For example, when I was explaining friction to my students, I acted like a pinball. At friction zero, I’m bouncing all over the room and at friction one, I’m at a dead stop. They laughed and thought I was making a fool of myself, but they remembered it.”

Portfolios Are Extremely Valuable

Learning in the CTE classroom is all about preparing students for a career they’re passionate bout. Throughout your course, make sure students are creating and updating their portfolios. Colleges and employers want assurance that they’re picking the right person, and a portfolio is a way to offer assurance of the quality of work your students can create.

“I’ve had students say, ‘Mr. Manning, I showed my portfolio to a potential employer. I told them it contained projects I’d worked on since high school. They were so impressed and offered me a job.’ That’s exactly what I want to hear. I want to know that what I’m teaching my students is helping them find success outside of the classroom.”

Interested in learning more about gaming design? Catch David’s full CERTIFIED Academy: Design session here. You can also learn more about Unity and world of gaming design here