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Design & Engineering > Game Design


In this activity, students explore physics, game development, and engineering through the collaborative creation of cardboard arcade games.

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PlayMaker School


Caine’s Arcade is a short film about 9-year-old Caine Monroy who built his own handmade cardboard arcade in his father’s used auto body shop. After a summer of waiting for customers with no luck, filmmaker Nirvan Mullick discovered the arcade and became Caine’s first customer. This video shows how engineering can be learned in a natural and interest-based way.

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Experience breakdown

Lesson Plan Overview

In this activity, students explore physics, game development, and engineering through the collaborative creation of cardboard arcade games. Over multiple sessions, students work in small groups to brainstorm and design unique arcade games. Students present and describe their game to the class for extended discussion and questions from peers. Using feedback provided during Q&A session, students rejoin small groups to refine their designs and construct their games. After completion, students test and compare their games through playing each other's creations.

Cardboard Arcade at Indiecade

The PlayMaker students shared their cardboard arcade games at IndieCade.

Materials and Prep

Materials Needed:

  • Large Cardboard Boxes
  • Recycled Materials (Cups, Bottles, Cartons, etc.)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Paint


Each child needs approximately 2 large pieces of cardboard to effectively build their arcade games. If you are planning to create a cardboard arcade, start collecting materials early! Some grocery, mattress, or large department stores may be able to donate their extra cardboard boxes. Alternatively, make collecting cardboard a school-wide event. Encourage families to bring in and donate their extra boxes for your classroom project. After you've completed the games, invite the rest of the school to come play in the cardboard arcade!

Learning Objectives

  • Identify and discuss game mechanics and components of familiar arcade games.
  • Design a new arcade game through sketching, developing game rules, and gathering peer feedback.
  • Construct a cardboard arcade game using previously designed blueprint, iterating if necessary.

Lesson Steps

Step One Students watch “Caine’s Arcade” as a classroom experience.

Step Two Classroom brainstorm and discussion. Topics to think about: previous games played, rules of other games, and physics of these games.

Step Three Break students into small groups of 2 to 3. Using classroom brainstorming ideas, students will collaboratively decide what kind of arcade game they can create with the given materials. Groups produce design sketches and write down rules for their game.

Classroom Brainstorming

Step Four Student groups present their design to the class for discussion and Q&A. Allowing for exchange of ideas and redesign.

Step Five From their final revised design sketch, students use materials (cardboard, cups, paint, etc.) to create their arcade games. Students must include a sign that displays the game rules, such as what the goal of the game is, as well as what players must do to earn tickets and how many tickets.

Creating the Games

Step Six When a group finishes construction, students set up their game in the “Finished Games Arcade” to allow others to experience their creations.

Step Seven Play games!

Other ideas & enhancements

Writing Have students write an essay about what games they liked most and why. What would they change about the games? What problems did they experience and how did they solve them?

Final Presentation Have students give a final speech about their teams' process. Explain the limits they encountered, how they dealt with them, and what they would do differently.


Students work collaboratively in the creation of their game.


Next Generation Science

MS-PS3-4.Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles as measured by the temperature of the sample.
MS-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

ISTE NETS - Digital Age Skills

Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes
Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems
Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.
Plan strategies to guide inquiry
Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media
Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks
Process data and report results
Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.
Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation
Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project
Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
topic discussion
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