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Creating Play with a Purpose: How One Canadian University Is Prepping the Next Generation of Game Designers

Wilfrid Laurier University Library
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Game design and development in Canada is a multi-billion-dollar industry with in-demand jobs. There’s a growing recognition that this industry needs to be more critical and question assumptions when designing games. Wilfrid Laurier University is preparing students to be at the forefront of this change.


Many popular games have dark themes that can lead to negative social situations. But there’s an approach to game design called pro-social design that can create a more positive environment for gamers and foster a stronger sense of community. Competition is replaced with co-operation in games, designed with an undertone of hope and positivity. Rich storytelling, innovative gameplay, and beautiful art and sound can expand the kinds of experiences games can have for players.

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Building new gaming norms

Pro-social design considers evidence-based practices to bring out the best in human nature. Creators designing multiplayer pro-social games set a positive tone by developing platforms where players interact and work together. This is a focus of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Game Design and Development program.

“Our program is unique because students learn to create games that do more than entertain. We strive to create engaging games that inspire, educate, or help make the world a better place,” says Dr. Scott Nicholson, Program Coordinator of Game Design at Wilfrid Laurier University. “Research shows that those who play pro-social video games, such as ones that build empathy and encourage nurturing and co-operation, tend to engage in more pro-social behaviour in their everyday lives.”

Laurier’s game design students create transformative video games, board games, and live-action games like escape rooms that positively influence social, cultural, and environmental issues while innovating and challenging the conventions and assumptions embedded in existing games. The program blends practical skills and design with an overarching humanities approach focused on how games can shape society. Students can influence the issues they’re passionate about.

Our program is unique because students learn to create games that do more than entertain. We strive to create engaging games that inspire, educate, or help make the world a better place

Preparing the next generation of game designers

Graduates of the program are already seeing how games can change the world as they create gamified experiences that are integrated into the workplace to support training, education, and team building.

Dr. Nicholson adds that diversity is an important consideration because games are tools for communication between designers and players. “Game designs are informed by the cultural point of view of the design team, which underscores the importance of having diverse points of view, so games are meaningful to a diverse audience,” he says.

Laurier’s Game Design and Development degree program is available at its Brantford campus. Applied learning takes many forms, including through the Game Changers Residence Learning Community, where students live and learn with other first-year game design students. In addition, campus and corporate experiential learning opportunities, including game jams and research projects, give students hands-on experience and the chance to build portfolio pieces. Students can work with the Laurier LaunchPad, an on-campus incubator where students can release games to the public and prepare to be future entrepreneurs.

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