Introduction to Digital Game Design as Art


  • Students will review strategies and purposes for critiquing artwork, and critique several digital games as works of art.
  • Students will be introduced to a variety of simple games by a diverse historical and contemporary creators from the commercial and independent spheres.
  • Students will be introduced to Game Maker, a powerful user-friendly game design tool, and learn how to use it to implement several elementary game mechanics.
  • Students will create their own simple game, applying the values and concepts derived from critique of exemplar games, and the skills developed in the Game Maker tutorials.

Teacher Materials

Currentlab – Game Curriculum by Ryan Patton, Luke Meeken & Meredith Cosier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on a work at

Exemplar Art and Commercial Games Used in This Unit

An effort has been made to include on-line playable versions of each of these games on this site, which will hopefully not be blocked by school internet systems, and which will function equally well on Windows, Mac or Linux systems.

Space Invaders – Tomohiro Nishikado (1978)

Play Space Invaders online on the CurrentLab website
Space Invaders was an extremely influential and successful arcade game in Japan and around the world. It set the stage for later influential Japanese developers, such as Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Legend of Zelda) and Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear), who both cite it as an inspiration. While it is famous as one of the first ‘shooting games,’ it also includes other inventive elements such as the ability to take cover and a player-malleable environment.

Centipede – Dona Bailey and Ed Logg (1981)

Play Centipede online on the CurrentLab website
Centipede was a notable and very successful American arcade game that built upon Space Invaders by adding more NPC types and having actions that affect the environment. Shooting enemies creates mushrooms which block shots, however the mushrooms that make up the landscape can be destroyed.

River Raid – Carol Shaw (1982)

Play River Raid online on the CurrentLab website
Play River Raid online at the console library
Building upon the ‘shooter’ template set out by Space Invaders and Centipede, Shaw innovated by adding a procedurally-generated scrolling world the player flies through. The level was actually too large to be stored on an Atari cartridge, so Shaw had to code it to make the Atari system build the level as you play it. Another innovation is the “heads-up display” at the bottom of the screen showing a fuel meter which must be regularly replenished.

The Adventures of Lolo III – Satoru Iwata and HAL Labs (1990)

Play Lolo III online on the CurrentLab website
Lolo was a series of Japanese adventure/puzzle games, and Lolo 3 afforded players various verbs (pushing blocks to block enemy shots, creating bridges, transforming enemies into eggs), selectable male or female characters (press ‘B’ on the map screen), nonlinear level selection, and a tutorial stage to introduce players to the mechanics of the game. Satoru Iwata is now the President of Nintendo.

Katamari Damacy – Keita Takahashi (2004)

Play Katamari Damacy online on the CurrentLab website
Katamari Damacy is a game by artist/designer Keita Takahashi with unconventional non-adversarial goals. Rather than fighting an enemy, the player plays as the ‘Prince of Space,’ trying to roll as many objects onto his ever-increasing ‘Katamari,’ or sticky ball, as he can. The player must start by rolling up smaller objects, until her/his ball is large enough to absorb bigger and bigger items. This is a 2-D flash version of the game created to promote the 3-D Playstation 2 version.

Idealism – Jason Rohrer (2008)

Play Idealism online on the CurrentLab website
Download the original GameMaker file and a Windows executable file from the author
A metaphoric “sketch” game by artist and game designer Jason Rohrer relating mechanics to loss of ideals and taking shortcuts in life. As the levels become more complex, players can take shortcuts to save time and have a higher score, but taking shortcuts can turn allies into enemies and make the level harder. The game was actually made in Game Maker, and the download includes Rohrer’s original Game Maker file.

Lim – Merritt Kopas (2012)

Play Lim online on the CurrentLab site (link no longer available)
Play Lim at Merritt Kopas’s website (link no longer available)
LIM is a metaphoric game relating mechanics to social experience of “passing” or “fitting in” and the aggression that can result when someone doesn’t “fit in.” While the metaphor is autobiographical and stems from the artist’s identity as a queer woman, the abstraction of the game has allowed players to draw connections to bullying, social anxiety, and other personal experiences.