A digital game-based approach to conceptually understanding cellular metabolism

Design Pre-production

stage 1: Discover and deFINE

1-1 Meeting with Project Stakeholders

A committee meeting was held to define the visual problem, the committee members' roles, and the general scope of the project. This on-boarding meeting also covered a tentative trajectory of the design process for this project.

1-2 Writing a Research Proposal

A literature review was conducted to justify the visual problem and using a DGBL approach as an appropriate solution. A media audit was also performed to assess the currently available resources, and identify their strengths and weaknesses.

1-3 Planning and Conducting a Gaming Mechanic Ideation Session

Ideation sessions for a potential game mechanic to communicate this scientific content was conducted with a combination of committee members, BMC students and faculty, and biology masters students.

  • First, a large number of potential game mechanics were ideated live as a large group using sticky notes. Each of these game mechanics were then grouped based on similarity in idea.

  • Next, we separated into two smaller groups and each took 1-2 ideas to further develop. These ideas were then presented to each other at the end of the session.

  • Then, I summarized all of the generated ideas in a document and distributed it to all committee members for personal record.

  • Lastly, I met with the content advisors to solicit their opinion on the ideas generated to decide on a game mechanic to further pursue.




(A) A creativity warm up exercise, supporting documents to provide context for the project to meeting members;  (B) groupings of game mechanics from the live ideation; (C) a presentation by one of the smaller groups on their further developed idea.

stage 2: Fleshing out a concept

2-1 Designing and Mapping Learning Outcomes

The principle learning goals of the game were defined in collaboration with project stakeholders. Personas were created to further explore the potential users of this game, and help inform what kind of potential in-game activities within the context of the game mechanic decided upon would be appropriate to support these learning outcomes. I solicited feedback on these deliverables from other student biomedical communicators and my faculty supervisor.

(Above) Picture of live peer feedback activity on user personas, and the proposed mapping of game mechanics and to learning mechanics/outcomes.

2-2 Developing the Game Story, Gameplay, & User Interface

A one-sheet was created for the game outlining the game story and overall gameplay of Sugar Scramble. These documents and the user interface, items, objects, and character designs were developed iteratively with feedback from Dr. Derek Ng, the project faculty supervisor. This was done in concert with the development of prototypes (see 2-3).

2-3 Iteratively Prototyping and User Testing

Several low fidelity paper and digital prototypes were created iteratively to test game logic, player enjoyment/engagement, and overall design. Test players included the project supervisor, other faculty members in the department of biology, and students with or without a background in biomedical communications.

From rapidly reiterating these prototypes, the game mechanic changed to more appropriately communicate the learning aims of the game while maintaining accuracy and clarity. As a committee, an executive decision was made to allow myself to design outside my own personal skillset as a developer so that the complexity of the content was fully appreciated; thus, my focus changed from creating a demo game to creating robust design documentation and all of the assets. As the prototype began to change less and less between iterations, higher fidelity prototypes were created.

Low Fidelity Prototypes

High Fidelity Prototypes

  • Colleen Tang Poy (LinkedIn)
  • @colspleen