Cardboard Arcades

A few years ago, a young boy took the world by storm with his inspiring cardboard arcade, Caine’s Arcade. Now, many people are joining in the fun by creating their own cardboard arcades. Whether they are collaborative efforts or just made to be tabletop fun, cardboard arcades are a great way to upcycle everyday materials and merge storytelling and simple machines. According to one of our favorite online video game design tools, Gamestar Mechanic, there are five elements of game design:

  1. Space: The look and feel of a game from the design of its environment.
  2. Components: The parts of the game, such as characters, mazes, enemies, etc.
  3. Mechanics: The actions in the game, such as jumping and collecting.
  4. Goals: The players complete tasks in order to achieve points and win the game.
  5. Rules: The guide and instructions for how the game should be played.

Whether designing digital video games or non-digital cardboard games, these 5 elements of game design are needed to create games that are engaging and fun. Think about the games that you see when you walk into Chuck E. Cheese’s or other arcade settings. You are immediately drawn to games with bright colors but you might be hesitant to waste a token on a game that doesn’t look like fun or make sense. Some times it’s best to start discussing the 5 elements of game design by looking at simple cardboard arcade game examples (Pinball Game, Foosball Game, Plinko, Pachinko, Cardboard Skeeball). We like to have our own tabletop examples available for students to examine, which allows them to really discuss the 5 elements of game design and to gain hands-on exploration of the simple machines that make the games work. Once they talk about successful and unsuccessful game elements, they can delve in deeper to the examples to see how they are made and talk about how they could recreate their own versions. Then we give our students the following open-ended challenge (note: We do cardboard arcades as a culminating project after our students have completed some hands-on cardboard construction with simple machines):

Design Challenge: Keeping in mind the 5 elements of game design, use upcycling materials to build your own arcade game that fits on a tabletop and has at least one simple machine.

  1. Sketch ideas and write about how simple machines and the 5 elements of game design will be used.
  2. Share with the group and discuss.
  3. Post-it Note Feedback: Everyone gives feedback to each other by using a post-it to write one thing you like and one suggestion for improvement (has to be actionable).
  4. Build!!!!! Inspire the students to really consider how they can transform the recyclable materials to create added functionality and challenge.
  5. User Testing: In groups of 3, students will test each other’s games and provide feedback on the 5 elements.
  6. Redesign (as needed)
  7. Play! A classroom arcade can be done in many ways. Whether its simply an hour of free-play or opening the arcade up to another classroom or a friends and family arcade night, letting the students share their arcade creations with others is priceless. Our kids have even gone so far as to create their own tickets and prizes!

Other Resources to Consider: