It's May at a New York City high school’s after-school program. We—the adult facilitators—have been guiding a group of youth to produce a location-based mobile game. The teens have worked dozens of hours and want to see a finished product. But with the final playtest coming soon, we are stuck. Reflecting on the most recent session with the participants, we realize that the game is far behind where it should be. Despite having already begun to code the game and write its interactive text, the game’s core mechanics are still only half-baked, and adjusting problematic real-world locations in the digital game will take time we just do not have. Something went wrong in the design process, and we have to figure out what to do next.
We ask ourselves, should we make this a "teachable moment?” Reiterate the challenges of mobile game design and let them experience what happens when your product does not work and you are facing a deadline? Or should we adults step in, potentially undercutting the teens' agency as designers, to help them achieve a playable outcome? Time is ticking. We decide that this time, we’ll step in and mock up a new prototype to help them out. But there has to be another way to balance the challenges of designing a complex mobile game against the teens’ agency and ownership over the process. What might we do better next time?