Games are about two things: agency and empathy.
Games are made up of systems of rules or constraints and particular goals. When a player explores these systems, they make meaning from the relationship that emerges out of their actions with the possibility space of the game systems. When they start to understand the systems, they gain agency–the ability to make decisions and affect change.
Games are also made up of stories. A designer has a particular story or experience they wish to convey, and a player has a particular history with a game that can be retold and shared. This sharing of experiences, like good books, are the surest way I know towards building empathy.
All this is to say, we ought to encourage gaming literacy with a focus on building these two things. And not just encourage playing games in a critical, reflective way, but also encourage all people to make games and tell their stories.
Luckily, there’s a ton of free game-making tools out there that are easy to use, many of them requiring no programming experience and some of them not even requiring art. It’s often assumed that making games is about the programming and art, but I believe the true power of learning game design is in learning how to plan and design relationships and experiences.
So, here’s a round up of some free tools that anyone can jump right into using. You could try them out over a weekend, during a game jam, or whenever you have free time!