A game as playful media and complex system can’t be drafted as a whole beforehand, but has to be grown into its (final?) form through iterations, morphing from version to version, finding its own shape step by step or just evolving forever.

Dissecting and examining the development process of games is key for understanding and mastering not just game design and development, but the increasingly digital world we are in per se. Game Design as Gardening is the academic extension of Devolution, exploring similar topics as the exhibition from a different point of view.

Experts from academy, science and research and game development will discuss the growing process of digital games and what that means for digital media.

Game Design as Gardening is a cooperation between Devolution and Clash of Realities and a part of Devolution #5.

Thursday, 11.04.2019 – 11:00 – 14:30

The summit will be moderated by Su-Jin Song.

11:00 – 11:05


A short welcoming by Prof. Björn Bartholdy, Prof. Csongor Baranyai, and Prof. Gundolf S. Freyermuth.

11:05 – 11:45

Eric Zimmerman: 100 Versions of Losswords

Many game developers talk about iteration during the “gardening” of development, but in the heat and pressure of releasing a game, we often don’t get to practice it as much as we would like. This session takes a painfully detailed look at the iteration of a single game: the mobile title Losswords. Through dozens of screenshots, mock-ups, and wireframe schematics, this session will trace the development of the game from fundamental changes through the minutiae of detailed refinement. From the core play mechanic to the narrative world to the interface details, developing Losswords meant wandering through a desert of possibilities, not always knowing how to proceed or whether we would make it out of the “garden” alive. Join us for hard lessons learned, both good and bad.

11:45 – 12:15

Hartmut Koenitz: Learning From Biology –
Game (System) Design as “gardening”

Games are (digital) systems, in which the elements influence each other and there is a feedback loop between game and player. There are clear parallels to biology as the origins of system theory and an overall systemic understanding of nature. Gardening means to create an ecosystem, in which plants influence each other and where we need to take the environment into account – the climate, seasons, soil, available space etc. Game design as gardening means to learn from this biological counterpart: planning for growth, patient and steady attention, weeding out of unintended effects.

12:15 – 12:45

Sabine Harrer: Plantations of Play – Colonial Botany in Videogames

Plantations of Play looks at game development through the lens of colonial botany. Where does our obsession with open colonizable worlds and the fear of a wild and untamed “Indiepocalypse” come from? One possibility: Our tools of game gardening have deep roots in Europe’s bigoted history. Time to unpack some trends and decolonise game gardening.


13:00 – 13:30

Robert Yang: We Must Cultivate Our Garden

Let’s assume we’re all very important, and fifty years from now, scholars will want to study our work and process. Let’s also assume we will still be alive in fifty years too… what materials will we give them, what would help them study our process and this era of game development? In this short lecture, I will talk a little bit about games and research, research as creation, archiving your development process, and why we must begin cultivating this “garden” for future generations to enjoy.

13:30 – 14:30

Game Development as Gardening

An in-depth interview with Adriaan de Jongh, Gabe Cuzzillo and Thomas van den Berg about the development processes of their games. How to grow a game?

How did the game change during its development? Why? Which features were added? Which were taken away? When? What were the interesting design challenges? What was the original vision of the game? How did the idea emerge? How did certain features evolved into their final version?

Hosted by Csongor Baranyai.

Adriaan is a game designer best known for the indie game hit Hidden Folks, a hand-drawn interactive searching game, and for experimental games like Bounden and Fingle, which move people out of the normal space of videogames by challenging players to dance, hold hands, and share physical interactions. He also has an awkward signature dance which he’ll perform with every opportunity presented.

Björn Bartholdy studied communication design (diploma) at the Merz Akademie in Stuttgart and media design (diploma) at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne. He also worked as a freelance designer for Bayerischer Rundfunk, RTL, VOX and VIVA. Since 2003 he has been responsible for the department of audiovisual media at the KISD, Köln International School of Design (TH Koeln) and since 2006 he has been course convener of the Bachelor in European Design. Björn Bartholdy is a long-standing member of the “Eyes and Ears of Europe”, the European association for design, promotion and marketing of audiovisual media. He has published three books: SHOWREEL.01 and .02 on audiovisual design and has also written “Broadcast Design”, an account of current TV design. He has also contributed various articles to the Design Dictionary (Birkhäuser) Magazines and other Publications. In 2006 he started the initiative to found the Cologne Game Lab, where he starts to teach Media Design as a full time professor summer term 2014. He co-directs the institute together with Prof.n Dr. Gundolf S. Freyermuth.

Game and narrative designer Csongor Baranyai has more than 10 years of experience in the game and interactive media industry. He studied film and television dramaturgy/ script writing at the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (HFF) in Potsdam/ Babelsberg. He has worked as game designer and conceptioner for several companies as a contracted employee. Since 2008 he has worked on various projects as freelancing game designer, narrative designer and consultant for game developers, transmedia projects and artists, as well as miscellaneous personal projects.
Since 2009 he has been lecturer for game & system design, interactive narration and transmedia at several institutions. He was head of the further education program Interactive Media at the ifs international film school. Since 2015 he is professor of game design at the University of Applied Sciences Europe (Berlin) and since 2016 head of the BA study program Game Design // UE.

Eric Zimmerman is a game designer and Arts Professor at the NYU Game Center. He designs games on and off the computer that invent new forms of play. Eric was the co-founder of the NYC-based studio Gamelab and his projects include Diner Dash and SiSSYFiGHT 2000. He has also designed tabletop games like the card game The Metagame (with Local No. 12) and the strategy boardgame Quantum. Eric is the co-author of Rules of Play and the Game Design Reader and co-founded The Institute of Play, a nonprofit that opened a school in NYC based on games and play as the model for learning.

Gabe Cuzzillo is a game developer based in Brooklyn best known for his work on Ape Out, a saul-bass inspired top down action game with a focus on immediacy, physicality, and percussion. He teaches game development at NYU, and is also currently working on an arcade cabinet featuring a new version of his previous game, Foiled.

Gundolf S. Freyermuth, PhD, is a founding co-director and Professor of Media and Game Studies at the Cologne Game Lab of TH Koeln-University of Technology, Arts and Sciences, as well as Professor of Comparative Media Studies at the ifs international film school of Cologne. – Prior to his academic career, he wrote novels, scripts for radio plays, feature films and documentaries and he also worked as department head, editor, and head reporter for numerous German magazines. – His research focuses on new artistic and communicative practices, network culture, transmediality, and digital games. His recent English language publications include “Games | Game Design | Game Studies. An Introduction” (2015).

Prof. Dr. Hartmut Koenitz is professor for Interactive Narrative Design at HKU University of the Arts Utrecht. The focus of his research is Interactive Digital Narrative in Video Games and other emerging digital formats. He is also an artist and sometimes even a car mechanic. His areas of interest center around new expressive forms using digital technology. This includes narrative in video games as well as interactive art pieces and installations.
He was previously at the Department of Telecommunications/Entertainment Media Studies at the University of Georgia and at Georgia Tech’s LCC department, where he founded and led a research group and developed ASAPS, an open and expandable system for Interactive Digital Narrative.

Robert Yang makes surprisingly popular games about gay culture and intimacy — he is most known for his historical bathroom sex simulator The Tearoom and his male shower simulator Rinse and Repeat, and his gay sex triptych Radiator 2 has over 150,000 users on Steam. He is currently an Assistant Arts Professor at NYU Game Center, and he has given talks at GDC, IndieCade, Queerness and Games Conference, and Games for Change. He holds a BA in English Literature from UC Berkeley, and an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons School for Design.

Sabine Harrer, Ph.D is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies, University of Tampere (Finland). Their research focuses on cultural videogames criticism, HCI and intersectionality, and creation-based knowledge making. Author of the book Games and Bereavement (transcript 2018), Sabine has taught widely on game studies and design, cultural media studies and English studies at the University of Vienna, IT University Copenhagen, and UE Berlin. Sabine is a member of the Copenhagen Game Collective, a group of playful game devs creating provocative game artefacts and social installations in their free time.

Su-Jin Song is a film producer and director based in Germany. She studied creative producing at the ifs international filmschool cologne. Her graduation film “Ein Märchen von einer unmöglichen Stelle im Universum” was nominated for the German short film prize and won many awards at international film festivals. After her studies Su-Jin Song worked as a producer at the film production company augenschein filmproduktion and directed two documentary films “Doppelter Herzschlag” and “Unsere Eomeoni”. In 2015 she started her MA studies in Game Development and Research at the Cologne Game Lab, where she got a scholarship in the incubator program Cologne Game Farm with her team fantasticfoe. Su-Jin Song is currently working as research and teaching assistant at the Cologne Game Lab and developing international film projects between Europe and Asia.  

Thomas van den Berg creates games and game-like things and loves using pixels & shaders as impressionist tools, leaving room for the viewer’s imagination. With Noio, he created the Kingdom games: minimalist strategy games that are simple, but will not hold your hand, and leave you to explore their mysterious world.