There has been a growing amount of evidence that game designers primarily rely on personal experience [Sotamaa, 2007] and prefer to work with their self-perceived unlimited creativity when designing games [Vanden Abeele and Van Rompaey, 2006], the so-called I-methodology [Oudshoorn and Pinch, 2003]. Good and Robertson [2006] pointed out that what children expect and how they make meaning of applications (e.g., games) may not be aligned with the designers’ assumptions. In order to meet children’s needs and preferences, an adequate consideration of them in the design and development process is necessary [Antle, 2008].
As the research community in HCI has grown (i.e., there are lots of different methods available for UCD and game design in general), there is a need to collect advances in methodologies for designing children’s products, including newly developed approaches and user studies documenting experiences of existing approaches in CCI [Markopoulos et al., 2008]. For example, in order to work with children in the school context, Large et al. [2006] have proposed ‘bonded’ design approaches to develop technologies with them. Nowadays, there are also several approaches for the design and development of games with children in small groups available, like for participatory design [Druin, 2002], narrative-driven design [Duh et al., 2010], or child-centered interaction in game design [Tan et al., 2011]. However, there is still a lack of methodological approaches for the involvement of larger groups of preteens (e.g., entire middle school classes) in the game design and development process.
The tensions between UCD methods and software engineering have been widely acknowledged [McCoy, 2002], but little work has been done so far to investigate how to combine in particular child-centered design with game design. The child-centered game development (CCGD) framework aims to provide game researchers, developers, and designers a great variety of approaches for the active involvement of small and large groups of preteens, children aged 10 to 13 years, throughout the game design and development process. Contrary to, for example, cooperative inquiry [Druin, 1999], not only one approach for each design and development step should be provided, but a selection of different approaches to choose from for the analysis, concept, design, implementation, and evaluation phase.
The CCGD framework, similar to bonded design [Large et al., 2006], combines several design approaches. From UCD, it takes the most basic premise of addressing users throughout the entire design and development process. From participatory design, it takes concepts of peer co-designing, hands-on activities, and learning by doing. From learner-centered design, it takes the idea that all team members (whether professionals or children) are learners and should learn something from the collaboration.


The framework is based upon the belief that partnering with children is important to understand what is needed to develop games for children (similar to the cooperative inquiry [Druin, 1999]). Preteens are encouraged to take over the role of ...
- users [Kaplan et al., 2006]: Children are observed performing existing activities in specific or natural settings while they use the game or a prototype. This can take place at the beginning, during, and on completion of the design and development process,
- testers [Hanna et al., 2004]: Children are observed testing games and asked to provide feedback. This most commonly takes place at the end of design and development process,
- informants [Scaiffe et al., 1997]: Children are seen as experts inform the development team about key issues related to their experience, help to develop early design ideas, and test prototypes in development, or
- design partners [Druin et al., 1999 or Guha et al., 2005]: Children work as members of the development team, helping to identify problems and solutions to improve the game
... after the game researchers, designers, and developers have set the overall game project goal. When game designers and developers are willing to work with children, they will gain a better understanding of the preteens’ perspectives, their wishes, and needs. Likewise, children will learn about the complexity of designing and developing games for children and how they can apply educational content (i.e., practice based learning is supported).

The framework contains approaches that combine active user involvement with practice-based learning experiences for children. This is achieved within the refined CCGD approaches through combining traditional HCI approaches with educational approaches and learning content (see yellow highlighted approaches). For example, children are enabled to actively contribute their educational knowledge by applying personal descriptions in the Child-Game Persona approach, applying game descriptions in the Game Concept Description approach, or drawing game characters and levels.
In parallel to the development of these approaches, several researchers have worked on other approaches to integrate children in the design and development process of games (e.g., [Duh et al., 2010], [Tan et al., 2011], [Bekker and Antle, 2011], [Lange-Nielsen et al., 2012], [Zaman and Vanden Abeele, 2012], [Walsh et al. 2012 and 2013], [Guha et al., 2013], [Pasiali, 2013], or [Vissers et al., 2013]). Therefore, these and a few other older approaches are also considered and adapted for the CCGD framework (see orange highlighted approaches), in order to provide game researchers, designers, and developers a diverse collection of approaches to select from.


The CCGD framework follows the advices of Soloway et al. [1994] (regarding learn-centered design) and Bekker et al. [2003] by analyzing, selecting, adapting, and refining approaches that address the following criteria. A CCGD approach ...

1) has clear goals children can understand and offers the possibility to apply existing knowledge;
2) motivates and stimulates children in order to get something out of participating (i.e., support a win-win situation and honor children’s voices);
3) supports diversity of children and offers a great variety of involvement of children in order to address the different preferences for expressing themselves;
4) suits children’s reading and writing level, which is already very good for preteens (children aged 10 to 13 years);
5) ensures the gathering of the needed information for game researchers, designers, or developers (e.g., with diverse data sources for a better quality).

When collaborating with children in the game design process, the following guidelines will be helpful for successfully applying the various CCGD approaches.

1) Involving teachers or education experts
Involving teachers or education experts (with their pedagogical skills) before and during the application of CCGD approaches can be very beneficial. Mazzone et al. [2010] recommend involving education experts, when working with children. It assures in the planning phase that the selected approaches are suitable for the children and the setting they are applied in. During the activities in the classroom, the involvement ensures a minimum level of control, as teachers know how to handle, for example, the behavior of children or deal with problems. Other researchers have also realized the usefulness of combing the expertise of educators and game designers or developers, especially when developing serious games [Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005]. However, the responsibilities need to be clarified, in order to avoid conflicts when working with teachers or education experts.

2) Getting to know each other
Before starting to work with children, it is essential to get to know each other. The development team (i.e., game researchers, developers, and designers) should introduce themselves, followed by an icebreaker (e.g., asking children about their expectation of the project, finding out why or why not they are curious about the project) [Moser, 2013]. According to Schuh [2004], it is very important to create a positive interpersonal relationship (i.e., climate), in order to support learners-centered design (i.e., a win-win situation for both sides). In a next step, the development team need to get familiar with the user language (e.g., which words do children know and use); otherwise the children will have problems understanding them [Moser, 2013]. The Idea Cycle approach can provide valuable insights on the children’s knowledge.

3) Identification
In order to motivate the children to participate continuously in the game design and development process, it is necessary to give them a sense of belonging to the project and identification. This can be reached, for example, when involving children as design partners throughout the entire process. For a continuous involvement of children, it is necessary to develop an effective working relationship with defined key decision makers [Hanna et al., 1999].
It is also necessary to create positive interpersonal relationships and honor children’s voices [Schuh, 2004]. The role of the children in the design and development process needs to be made clear to them, so that they can identify with it (e.g., being experts or advisors). The children provide a valuable input, if they are treated as experts representing children of their age group and their interests. This is also highlighted by Hansen and Iversen [2013].

4) Defining steps and tasks
In order to not lose the motivation of the children, each CCGD approach should be split up into the steps/tasks, topics, or questions. As children tend to partly forget the work that might have been done some time beforehand and is relevant for the current approach, it is helpful to let the children reflect on the previous and future work in terms of what was/will be the outcome (i.e., support reflective learning) [Moser, 2013].
At the beginning of each task, it is essential to give an introduction with clear instructions [Soloway et al., 1994], in order to reach the defined goal of the different approaches. For example, for different topics trigger questions can be provided to promote autonomous work and active learning [Hinze-Hoare, 2006] and it should be made clear which knowledge to apply to solve the task [Killen, 2007]. It is also necessary to prepare proper explanations, for example, in case of unknown terminology (that should be known from guideline 2).
When working with children, it has to be considered that they get bored faster than adults and require variations. Thus, the different steps and tasks of the refined CCGD approaches should not last longer than 30 to 40 minutes, in order to maintain the children’s concentration. Two exceptions are the game characters/levels and the creative low-fidelity prototyping that can be extended up to 120 minutes [Moser, 2013].

5) Rewarding children
If children are continuously involved in the game design and development process they can take over parts of the ownership of the game they are designing and developing together with the game development team. This is most rewarding for them. However, the role clarity becomes then even more important (as addressed in guideline 3), as otherwise it can be very frustrating for children to take ownership if decisions are overruled afterwards by the development team.
If children are not continuously involved as design partners, it is necessary to think also about how to reward children in terms of motivating them to participate in several selected approaches in the game design and development. T-Shirts or snacks typically work for creating a bit of enthusiasm around the activities to come [Iversen et al., 2013]. Additionally, if children know what they can learn out of participating in the activities (which knowledge they can apply and gain), then they are even more motivated and want to learn [Killen, 2007].

6) Working with groups of children
Dividing a large group of children into small groups of two to four children is most suitable for the refined CCGD approaches and has the advantage that less time is needed (e.g., for brainstorming) and the benefits of group dynamic processes are not lost (e.g., motivation, discussion, or creativity). Hansen and Iversen [2013] confirmed that cooperation among peers in smaller groups of up to five children motivated them to take part in activities. During the group work phases, there is also the need to provide ongoing support for each group. In classrooms with about 20 children two to three instructors (i.e., teachers, game researchers, designers, or developers) should be present. As soon as the children know what to do, they are very creative [Moser, 2013].
Different group dynamic have been identified by Van Mechelen et al. [2014, 2015] that are also of relevance for the CCGD approaches. Example dynamics are the apart together phenomenon (i.e., children work individually and only combine results in the end), free riding phenomenon (i.e., some children take the advantage of working in a team and devote less effort), the unequal power phenomenon (i.e., opinions and ideas of a dominant child are followed), the laughing out loud phenomenon (i.e., some children are unwilling to take a task serious as a group and laugh most of the time), or the groupthink phenomenon (i.e., the group of children lost track of their overall vision and rushed quickly towards consensus neglecting choice alternatives by adding functionalities to please every team member).
Van Mechelen et al. [2014, 2015] propose, for example, to let children take on different roles as ‘silence captain’, ‘time keeper’, ‘inspiration general’, ‘material guard’, etc. to address these dynamics. Van Mechelen et al. [2015] also describe the relevance of the social interdependence theory as a conceptual framework to organize thinking about cooperation and competition when working in a group. They refer to Johnson and Johnson [2009], who identified and validated five principles that mediate the effectiveness of cooperation and competition (i.e., positive interdependence, individual accountability, promotive interactions, appropriate use of social skills, and group procession. They describe in their work how they addressed the different principles in co-design with children ages 9 to 10 years.

7) Flexible and creative alignment
When working with children, it is necessary to be flexible and ready to revise plans. Soloway et al. [1994] address this and propose one principle for learner-centered design, i.e., diversity is the norm and children should be supported through flexibility. Game researchers, designers, or developers should not panic, if a certain CCGD approach does not work out instantly and always keep in mind that being flexible means to differentiate between what is (not) important and be ready to make a creative alignment or take a different approach. Therefore, think in advance what might be a possible problem and have backups in mind that can be performed (i.e., a certain degree of flexibility and creativity is needed when working with children) [Moser, 2013]. This was also previously described by [Hanna et al., 1999].

8) Strong open-minded design and development team
With their freshness, imagination, and technology experience, children discover new creative forms of digital artifact usage that goes beyond the expectations of a research or development team [Garzotto, 2008]. The downside is that some of their ideas are technically unworkable [Scaife and Roggers, 1999]. Therefore, it is very important to have a good and open-minded design and development team (i.e., game researchers, designers, and developers) that is willing to take into account the input of children seriously. Once more, the role clarity is here important (as addressed in guideline 3). It has to be ensured, when game researchers, designers, or developers are taking the decisions about the extent to which the suggestions of children are considered in the final design that they do not easily dismiss challenging ideas.

9) Establishing a research-education cooperation
The CCGD approaches will work best, if a research-education cooperation is established between the development team and one or more cooperating schools. Therefore, it is necessary to schedule the responsibilities of each party in advance (as described also in guideline 1). Afterwards, for example, project days in the school can be organized over one school year (e.g., one project day/month) as a long-term collaboration.
Due to tests and exams, the children are sometimes already exhausted or lack motivation when the project day is starting [Moser, 2013]. Therefore, it might be necessary to change the planned tasks/approaches as outlined in guideline 8.

The CCGD framework consists of approaches for the analysis, concept, design, implementation, and evaluation phase. Approaches from user-centered and participatory design are combined and refined with approaches from educational science (i.e., methods and practices of teaching such as didactic, pedagogical and educational principles). In all the refined approaches, current educational content of school classes is taken up and integrated for practice-based and outcome-based learning in order to reach a win-win situation for children and game researchers, designers or developers.
The CCGD framework should help game researchers, developers, and designers to improve games design by illustrating how to involve children throughout the entire game design and development process. By combining approaches from HCI with educational science, the framework goes beyond traditional user-centered, participatory, and game design approaches. It provides a great variety of approaches (both refined and adapted ones) and opens the view towards new game design and development approaches in the CCI research field. The framework actively involves smaller or larger groups of preteens in game design and enables a learning experience for them.

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