ESCAPe Framework

A game design framework and dissertation that examines the designer-artifact-user relationship.


As an interactive designer, I sought to broaden and deepen the value of creating interactive media that touched upon complex, global issues. Futures-oriented civilization games are one such classification of media; while some of these games aim to entertain, many of them (also) encourage play for serious purposes, such as education, political discussion, and scenario building. 

Designers can experience incredible difficulty creating such games. Game creation can already be quite complicated; addressing layered topics (such as climate change, societal well-being, economic resource chains) with many dynamic elements only increases the complexity.

To give structure and support to my inquiry, I centered my research design and analysis around game design frameworks which are often-cited artifacts of game design literature, both in formal education (classroom) and informal learning settings (social media forums). I interviewed 13 designers; then I analyzed and categorized their responses into a detailed structure that represented their knowledge and attention when creating such games. I then constructed their categories into a new ontology or framework, taking into consideration existing game design frameworks and other supporting literature in games, design, artistry, expression and more. 

Ultimately, the lengthy dissertation wrangles the different realities of creating futures-oriented civilization games, as filtered through many lenses such as design theory and knowledge as well as philosophy.



Game design educators generally as well as future game designers who consider how artistry can be part of design.



The goal was to understand the role and experience of the designer in game design and how the designer is missing from game design frameworks. This was done under the lens of artistry and expression. To further narrow the population, I specifically focused on designers of futures-oriented civilization games.


Challenges & Successes

The main successes include: a more complete framework of the designer-artifact-user relationship that builds on existing literature, categories of how designers justify simulation/representation decisions, and considerations for game design educators.

Some challenges included the lengthy qualitative analysis process as well as fusing theory, interview knowledge, and applied information to qualify and give depth to the framework. Another challenge was giving shape to a more exploratory topic with no clear certainty of finding answers: this required a balance of limiting the research inquiry and doing a wide breadth of research, as each element of the designer-artifact-user relationship needed deep understanding. A final challenge was justifying the methodology, as the study was not a straightforward interview and coding process.