Title: Designing a Digital Game for the Family

Authors: Filip Lange-Nielsen, Benjamin Cassar, Xavier Stamps-Lafont

Supervisor: Rilla Khaled

Research question: What might a game design process look like for a game that stimulates and encourages family discussion and interaction, that can be played by players asynchronously and at different locations, and that caters for players with different levels of commitment, effort and skill?

Problem formulation

Families want to spend time with each other. Earlier, one of the activities that drew families together were for instance board games. Board games can be seen as a means to invite play and social interaction between family members. However, families today have become busier and have increasingly separate time schedules. Also, families can live in different and distant locations. Therefore organizing activities where members have to meet at the same time and place for longer periods of time, such as with board games, might not be so feasible as it might have used to be.

Many video games continue to cater to the young white male demographic. This despite the fact that the gamer demographic has changed significantly over the last decade. As the first gamer generations are growing up, becoming parents and starting families, the possibility of gamers having different ages and genders has increased. Furthermore game companies have shown a new conscious broadening of the target market in their business strategies. Worth mentioning is Nintendo with their handheld DS and Wii console, innovations which became extremely popular, some might say democratizing play.

With increasingly separate family schedules and a gamer culture maturing, a game that supports different levels of player commitment and player effort would be beneficial. We want to create a digital game that also allows players to play the same game together but at different times and locations. A digital game that the whole family will enjoy to play together – but not together. By sharing a game experience with each other at their individual leisure and coming together outside the game to discuss it, we hope the game facilitates renewed real life social interaction between the members of the family through play.


  • Cultural probes
  • Semi-structured interviews analyzed using grounded theory
  • Prototyping, both paper and digital


We produced comparable game prototypes that we feel met several of our experience goals, as well as incorporating may findings from our design research. While our design research was meant purely for inspiration, we believe our findings can serve as starting points for further work on how to design for families and how to understand family interactions.

We found that cultural probes and interviews are viable methods for concept development in game design. They yielded a wealth of information and inspirational materials. In our case, the methods worked well together because they complemented each other in many ways. The cultural probes approach allowed us to have an empathic “conversation” with the participants through the probe activities. Our approach to the interview analysis helped us reach a deeper understanding of the participants.

The materials produced in our design research focused our brainstorming, enabling us to have cooperative and productive sessions.

Over the course of our project, we deepened our understanding of different prototyping techniques. Parallel prototyping enabled us to cover a breadth of design ideas. We also learned that all the properties of a prototype can impact is design. In the end, we discovered that the hot-seat setup, which had just been a playtest consideration, had become an integral part of a game. It is in playtesting that these discoveries can be made. Playtesting can uncover many hidden surprises in the design and the player behavior it affords. In playtesting we found that some of our experience goals were met in ways we did not intentionally design.

Our goal in the beginning of this project was to make an asynchronous game as we thought that might be a good solution for a busy family. We developed non-asynchronous prototypes with the idea that they would be asynchronous after future development. While it would be possible to play these games asynchronously and keep working on them in that direction, some designs are better suited than others for further development in an asynchronous direction. When families play any game, their physical closeness and sense of presence are significant factors for the designer to keep in mind.

We observed that our designs led to increased family interactions while they were playing. Consequently, we believe that these designs have the potential for becoming successful family games.

We have reported on an exploratory player-centered design process which incorporated methods from other design disciplines. With this project, we feel we have contributed to the understanding of design processes of family games.


Full thesis (PDF)

Dungeon Maze prototype (Windows | Mac)