Play to win: Game Design merit badge released

The final cover (click to enlarge).

The final cover (click to enlarge).

Let me stop you right here. I know what you’re thinking, but, no, this is not a merit badge Scouts earn by playing video games.

Now that I’ve dispelled that common misconception, here’s the real story: Game Design merit badge — released today — teaches Scouts how to create, test, and refine a game from one of four categories.

It’s the BSA’s 131st current merit badge and it’s likely a one-size-fits-all badge—appropriate for super-athletic Scouts as well as those who are less so. And perfect for the right-brainers and the left-brainers.

Today, March 6, is the official release date, but the merit badge pamphlets are still being printed and shipped. So, they won’t arrive in Scout Shops until later this month. The quickest way to get a pamphlet may be online, with an order to This way, you’ll get your pamphlet right from the source. I don’t see the pamphlets on the site just yet, but keep checking back.

As for requirements, I’ve got a full list below. But most of the work revolves around creating an actual game in one of these four categories:

  • Electronic (games for computers, game systems, or mobile devices)
  • Outdoor/Athletic (sports or games like capture the flag)
  • Tabletop (dice-based games, board games, card games)
  • Pen and Paper or Role-Playing Games

Here’s the full list:

Game Design merit badge requirements

1. Do the following:

a. Analyze four games you have played, each from a different medium. Identify the medium, player format, objectives, rules, resources, and theme (if relevant). Discuss with your counselor the play experience, what you enjoy in each game, and what you dislike. Make a chart to compare and contrast the games.

b. Describe four types of play value and provide an example of a game built around each concept. Discuss with your counselor other reasons people play games.

2. Discuss with your counselor five of the following 17 game design terms. For each term that you pick, describe how it relates to a specific game.

Thematic game elements: story, setting, characters

Gameplay elements: play sequence, level design, interface design

Game analysis: difficulty, balance, depth, pace, replay value, age appropriateness

Related terms: single-player vs. multiplayer, cooperative vs. competitive, turn-based vs. real-time, strategy vs. reflex vs. chance, abstract vs. thematic

3. Define the term intellectual property. Describe the types of intellectual property associated with the game design industry. Describe how intellectual property is protected and why protection is necessary. Define and give an example of a licensed property.

4. Do the following:

a. Pick a game where the players can change the rules or objectives (examples: basketball, hearts, chess, kickball). Briefly summarize the standard rules and objectives and play through the game normally.

b. Propose changes to several rules or objectives. Predict how each change will affect gameplay.

c. Play the game with one rule or objective change, observing how the players’ actions and emotional experiences are affected by the rule change. Repeat this process with two other changes.

d. Explain to your counselor how the changes affected the actions and experience of the players. Discuss the accuracy of your predictions.

5. Design a new game. Any game medium or combination of mediums is acceptable. Record your work in a game design notebook.

a. Write a vision statement for your game. Identify the medium, player format, objectives, and theme of the game. If suitable, describe the setting, story, and characters.

b. Describe the play value.

c. Make a preliminary list of the rules of the game. Define the resources.

d. Draw the game elements.

6. Do the following:

a. Prototype your game from requirement 5. If applicable, demonstrate to your counselor that you have addressed player safety through the rules and equipment.

You must have your merit badge counselor’s approval of your concept before you begin creating the prototype.

b. Test your prototype with as many other people as you need to meet the player format. Compare the play experience to your descriptions from requirement 5b. Correct unclear rules, holes in the rules, dead ends, and obvious rule exploits. Change at least one rule, mechanic, or objective from your first version of the game, and describe why you are making the change. Play the game again. Record whether or not your change had the expected effect.

c. Repeat 6b at least two more times.

7. Blind test your game. Do the following:

a. Write an instruction sheet that includes all of the information needed to play the game. Clearly describe how to set up the game, play the game, and end the game. List the game objectives.

b. Share your prototype from requirement 6a with a group of players that has not played it or witnessed a previous playtest. Provide them with your instruction sheet(s) and any physical components. Watch them play the game, but do not provide them with instruction. Record their feedback in your game design notebook.

c. Share your game design notebook with your counselor. Discuss the player reactions to your project and what you learned about the game design process. Based on your testing, determine what you like most about your game and suggest one or more changes.

8. Do ONE of the following:

a. With your parent’s permission and your counselor’s approval, visit with a professional in the game development industry and ask him or her about his or her job and how it fits into the overall development process. Alternately, meet with a professional in game development education and discuss the skills he or she emphasizes in the classroom.

b. List three career opportunities in game development. Pick one and find out about the education, training, and experience required for the profession. Discuss this with your counselor. Explain why this profession might interest you.

Tips for Game Design merit badge counselors

Read our Scouting magazine Merit Badge Clinic on Game Design.


Send your Scouts to this site for more resources: click here.

37 thoughts on “Play to win: Game Design merit badge released

  1. There’s a typo in the link to the Boy’s Life page at the end of this post. I ended up at a dead page. I was able to fix it in my browser, but you might want to fix it in the post.

  2. The merit badge is being ‘Launched” on Friday in Austin, TX. The first group of others who will be able to earn it will be 23 lucky Scouts who are attending Merit Badge University @ Harvard on Saturday. It will be taugh by David Radue (the ‘father’ of Game Design MB.

  3. @Mr Bubbles Actually, I think even some younger Scouts could do it. If this had been introduced earlier and my son had a MBC to work with, then he could have used several projects at school over the last three years that required him to design games as book projects, math projects, and science projects. Designing games is a very popular project in MANY classes in later years in later years in elementary and in middle school as well.

  4. Very cool!
    A piece of cake to do? No.
    Looking forward to being a counselor? You bet!

    Though I do feel the requirements are basically focused on board game, and less on sport/role playing games and poorly for electronic games. “d. Draw the game elements.” pretty much defines it to be board game…Playing a prototype is MUCH more challenging to pull off in of a video game than in the other mediums.

    • Drawing the game elements tends to be a part of the prototypal process for every game, whether on paper or digitally.

    • It’s actually very common to prototype even electronic games on paper. Shadow Complex (a Metroid clone) for Xbox 360 for example was completely tested on paper before they began working on it as a video game. There are also free tools for making quick and easy electronic prototypes, like Vassal (for turn-based stuff) or Stencyl (for realtime stuff), which only require a few hours practice to use.

  5. I knew it was coming. Just did not have details.
    Finding the professional for an interview may be the hardest part.
    I have not paid attention to that world for 35+ years.
    Maybe I could find an engineer from the Military Industrial Complex.

    The counselor will be the next hurdle.

  6. Seriously? While they refuse to recognize martial arts or stick sports(lacrosse, field hockey), both of which require discipline and physical fitness, let’s create more video games, to encourage more boys to sit on the couch.

    • The Boy Scouts would love to add these sports, it’s just the liability is too much. Even if the boy is doing it with an outside group, the badge being a motivator could be a cause for lawsuit in the case of injury. Besides, “Sports” kind of blankets those games.

    • Well done, you’ve shown how uneducated and narrow-minded you are. Game design certainly requires discipline. When was the last time you pulled a 90-110 hour week for lacrosse/field hockey? It’s also totally unfair to generalize that video games = sedentary lifestyle. How about the opposite end of the spectrum? “Let’s encourage more boys to get out there with the serious risk of bodily harm and lasting mental damage.” Join the 21st century please, I think you may find it nice here.

    • I think you didn’t read this article – it is much more oriented towards a board game. However, it could also be a video game or for that matter an outdoor game that involves physical fitness and discipline.

    • Read the sports merit badge book it includes lacrosse and field hockey. Don’t go bad mouthing people that put there time and effort into making these badges with out doing your research first.

    • The keyword in your post is ‘create’. As a programming mentor in a high school robotics program I’ve turned many video gamers into creators, designers, programmers and engineers.

  7. I totally disagree with this. Boy scouts are made to be taught on life teaching badges. And this is a 360 degree turn on what we teach them. Whats next?? A badge on how manypeople can do my work?

    • B.P. included a section on games in the back of the first Scout Handbook, so addressing this isn’t far off from the ideals of Scouting.
      The MB requirements actually lean heavily on physical games (sport-like) and board games. The requirement to prototype the game makes it extremely difficult to apply this to a digital game.
      What is the life lesson? This MB has the Scout establish ground rules that are logical, fair, and fun. The Scout must create a design plan and follow through with it. It teaches the Scout to use a blind test to analyze and refine the game design. The Scout will also be exposed to constructive criticism which is needed on our youth.
      The game(s) created could become games that your Unit starts playing as a tradition.

    • That you used the term “360 degree turn” which is a full circle and would have you face the same way shows the lack of thought behind this post and your opinion. Although I am not a supporter of this merit badge, game design is extremely time and energy intensive and really draws out creativity in a medium many youths can enjoy. Please take the time to think before you speak next.

      • Your comment does make me think about the whole STEM program and process…The driving force behind the program is from comments by CEO’s that claim that they can’t find people qualified to do the jobs they have open..But apparently Mexico has a far more advanced work force than the US where a lot of the jobs have been transferred to.. I think what the CEO’s are really saying is that we can;t find any qualified people to the jobs we have open who are willing to work for $2 an hour.

        The work force crisis is the result of a catch-22 created by the greed of American business..They started sending jobs overseas, college kids decided not to persue degrees for the careers that were being sent overseas, now industry cant understand why they cant find a work force locally..

    • Your grammar and reasoning is atrocious. One of the main objectives of scouting is to prepare scouts for their future, and if someone wants to go into game design, this would be a great badge for them. I hope that you realize that 360 degrees is a circle.

    • There are many life carears that involve game design. In Central Florida, there are alot of video game designers as well as simulater and Computer Based Training developers. All of which are inline with the role playing and electronic parts of this merit badge.

      This does not appear to be an easy badge and it looks like alot of thought has been put in to it.

    • Teaching boys to use their imagination to create something is very worthwhile. Imagination is where new ideas come from, and that can lead to life saving ideas. I’m all for this badge!

  8. So would e-mailing and getting a response from a game development professional count as “visiting?” It seems almost impossible, unless you live in one of the few areas that actually has game companies. And does someone who has published a game count, if that person doesn’t actually make his or her living at it? That might be a little easier.

    • Actually, game companies are fairly prolific throughout the US. If you’re having difficulties locating a game dev professional, try checking to see if there’s a local chapter of the IGDA where you live.

  9. > It seems almost impossible, unless you live in one of the few areas that actually has game companies.

    There are more of them than you’d think. I’m a patent attorney in a small town, and you’d be surprised at how many patent applications I’ve filed over the years for local people designing games.

    > And does someone who has published a game count, if that person
    > doesn’t actually make his or her living at it?

    I would imagine so, if the counselor agrees to accept it – but that’s an alternative requirement. If there aren’t any game development professionals around, the Scout can always do the traditional “list career opportunities in whatever” requirement.

    • There are gaming conventions in many cities, and most have panel discussions from industry professionals. The timing on this is great, becase in two weeks in our town (Milwaukee) is the Midwest Games Classic. It is a two-day convention that focuses on vintage games including pinball and the old electronic games from when most of us were kids. (pong, anyone?). I have taken my son for the past three years and we always have a good time. Games Workshop has an annual convention as well that brings in their staff. Nearly every city has a comic book convention, and sometimes games are part of that.

  10. 8b. Find out about ….., does not state you need to actually talk to a person in the industry. You can use this thing called the internet or other resources that will be listed on the MB worksheet to find out and completed #8 requirements. This same option is available with several MBs which gives boys and option to complete if there is not a person they can reach out to.

    I think this is a great MB, probably more valuable than many MBs available today. It requires a scout to think more deeply about games, strategies, etc., add creatively and logic then apply them to making their own game. For boys more advanced, it gets them into computer programming and game design, which could launch them into a career. In teh end, it is one more thing to help round them out. Again, setting them apart from the basic kid who does nothing.

  11. This is awesome! As a game designer and teacher of game design, I always have boys in my Pack/Troop interested in my career field. Where in Austin is this being launched, and will there be a similar badge for Cubs/Webelos?

  12. This is great! As a game designer and teacher of game design, I frequently have boys in my Troop/Pack asking me about my career field. Will there also be a similar badge for Cubs/Webelos? And where in Austin is this launching tomorrow? I’ll be at SXSW in the Palmer Center at the Interactive Expo all weekend and I’d love to see this in action if it’s there.

  13. I home school one of my sons and one mom in the group is a web/game designer. This is exactly what she has been teaching in one of our co-op classes: Game Board Design. She is also teaching a virtual world game design. Maybe you can look into the world of Internet programmers for the professional.

  14. Excellent! This is going to be a great merit badge which offers variety and is bound to have a great deal of interest from our Troop. Creativity, problem solving, imagination! Combine this with leatherworking, woodcarving and metal working and a scout could incorporate those elements into the game at summer camp. Not for everyone, but I could see some scouts really being into this.

  15. As an ex-scout and now indie game developer, I think that this is absolutely fantastic! I applaud your efforts to focus what is clearly a common scout-aged hobby into a potential career path. Capturing and guiding a passions like these early help lead to really amazing creative individuals in an industry where it’s very easy to love what you do each and every day!

    For high school-aged scouts, I’d strongly recommend a voluntary followup to completing the merit badge be participation in a game jam. There scouts can meet fellow game developers and designers, further their skills, discover areas of interest and easily network with game professionals. It’s a very welcoming industry! =)

  16. Very disappointing. Why would they announce a new merit badge, and not have the book available? It’s been 3 weeks. I called National, and the person in the supply store thinks it will be another 3-4 weeks before the book is in. If it’s not ready, they should have waited to announce it until it was available.

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