Game Design

Grades 5-8
60 min
Computer Science

Computer software is a set of instructions that tells a computer how to perform a set of tasks. A video game is a specific type of computer software. Computer scientists have developed video games based on a set of instructions and actions that help you know how to play and win the game.

Ready to get started?

Deck of cards



Designing video games

How do computer scientists design video games? Here are the steps they use:

  • Planning: Game developers look at elements that make games fun, but challenging!
  • Pre-production: They talk with other members of the team to figure out how the game will work.
  • Production: They make the game!
  • Testing: They test the game to make sure it works how it is supposed to.

These steps are part of the software design process, which is the process that computer scientists use to create new computer software. Today, you’re going to use parts of the software design process to make your own “unplugged” games without using a computer.


Today, you will create a game of Extreme Go Fish using conditionals. Although your game will be unplugged, meaning it won’t use a computer, you will still use computer science concepts to design it.

Did you know?

Conditionals are instructions that a program, or in your case, a person, follows.

It might sound complicated, but let’s break it all down using the game of Go Fish to understand what we’re talking about.  First, let’s quickly review how the game of Go Fish works.

  • This is played with a deck of cards.  Each player gets 7 cards, and the remainder go in a pile on the table.
  • To play you ask another player if they have a specific card that you also have in your hand. Then, two different things could happen.
  • If they have that card, they give the card to you. You now have a match and can lay the match on the table. Then, you can go again.
  • But, if they don’t have the card you asked for, they say, “Go Fish,” and you draw a card from the pile on the table.
  • The game goes on until one person is out of cards. Then the players count their matched cards to see who has the most matches. The person with the most matches wins, and that’s how you play Go Fish!
If/then statements

Okay, are you ready to get started on your game of Extreme Go Fish? You’ll use the same rules, but you’ll add an action to them. Think of something that makes your game more active! Instead of just sitting at the table, Go Fish is going Extreme!

Here is an example of the type of if/then statement you’ll write.

IF Player 1 gets a match, THEN Player 2 does five jumping jacks. 

Write your own if/then statements

Use the examples below to complete the statements and write them on a sheet of paper.

  • If the player asking for a card gets a match, then _____.
  • If the player asking for a card has to draw a card, then _____.
  • If the player asking for a card has to draw but gets a match, then everyone else  _____.
  • If _____ happens, then the game is over.
Share it!

Take your if/then statements and try out your game of Extreme Go Fish with family members or friends. Ask them for feedback on your rules. You’ll need this later. Your game isn’t supposed to be flawless at this point. Game designers want their players to find the problems so they can improve the game!

Computer scientists call this user testing. User testing allows computer scientists to evaluate and improve their projects. Later in this activity, you’ll have a chance to use the feedback you got from your user testing to create a new game!

Did you know?

Playing cards as we know them today are believed to have originated in China during the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty.

Finding patterns

There are many types of card games, and they all use the cards a little differently. The way each type of game uses the different cards follows a pattern.

  • Rummy: The suits on the cards are used in a specific order.
  • War: Each card has a value that determines who wins each hand.
  • Solitaire: The suits on the cards are used in a specific order, along with the numbers and colors.
  • Euchre: Only part of the deck is used, and cards have a different order and meaning from most other games.

Can you think of some other games you have played with a deck of cards? What similarities do these card games have?

Finding similarities and differences in data, like we just did, is known as pattern recognition.

When computer scientists program a computer, even to do a task that is easy for humans, the programmer must reflect on how to solve the problem in a lot of ways, and then find a pattern that they can program a computer to follow.

Making a new game

In this section of the activity, you’ll take what you know about playing card games and design a brand new game with all of your favorite things! Make sure to take your feedback you got from your game of Extreme Go Fish to make your new game the best it can be.

Remember, the way a card game uses the different cards follows a pattern. To get started on your new card game, think of a card game you know and find the patterns. Then, try to change it until it is an entirely new game!

Here are some common card game patterns:

  • Number order
  • Number value (5 = 5, Jack = 10)
  • Cards with extra powers (like an ace)
  • Suit importance

Here are a few examples.

  • If a heart is played, then _________.
  • If a five is played, then _________.
  • If you do not have a match, then ________.
  • If you run out of cards, then _______.
Did you know?

The inclusion of jokers in a deck of cards is a relatively recent addition to playing cards. Jokers were first introduced in the 19th century, primarily in America, but we don’t know exactly where they started!

Test your game

It’s time to enter the user testing phase, again! Find a few friends or family members to test out your new game.

How did they like the game?  Based on your user testing, what new patterns or updated instructions could make the game better?

You may want to make a few changes and retest using the new-and-improved version of your game.

Bonus Activity

Usually wild cards add difficulty to a card game by making it hard to guess which players might have them. Introduce jokers into your new game as a wild card or designate a card that could serve as a wild card! For example, all 5s could be wild and can fill in as any other card.

Now that you’ve learned about the software design process, you can investigate and explore topics that are interesting to you.


Why do people play games?


What makes a game fun to play?


What makes a game challenging?


Why should we play both computer games and in-person games?

Before there were computers and video games, most games were played in person and in groups.  Think about some of the games you played with family or friends when you were younger.  Were they board games?  Were they outside games? Take some time to explore when your favorite in-person game was created and whether that game has gone through changes since it was first invented.

Game design can be a rewarding and fulfilling career for several reasons. Game design provides a unique opportunity to unleash creativity and self-expression. As a game designer, you have the freedom to bring your ideas to life. It involves writing compelling stories, designing engaging gameplay mechanics, and creating beautiful worlds. Game design allows you to explore and express your artistic vision.

Did you enjoy this activity?

No endorsement by 4-H is implied or intended. 4-H is the youth development program for our nation’s cooperative extension system.