PIXEL: Challenges of Designing a Professional Board Game for Astronomy Education


  • Giannandrea Inchingolo INAF - National Institute for Astrophysics, Arcetri Astrophysics Observatory, Florence, Italy; Game Science Research Center, Lucca, Italy https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1506-6227
  • Rachele Toniolo Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; INAF - National Institute for Astrophysics, Radio Astronomy Institute, Bologna, Italy; Game Science Research Center, Lucca, Italy https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6142-7388
  • Stefania Varano INAF - National Institute for Astrophysics, Radio Astronomy Institute, Bologna, Italy; Game Science Research Center, Lucca, Italy https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7490-7620
  • Andrea Ligabue University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy; Game Science Research Center, Lucca, Italy https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6528-6180
  • Sara Ricciardi NAF - National Institute for Astrophysics, Astrophysics and Space Science Observatory, Bologna, Italy; Game Science Research Center, Lucca, Italy




Game design, game-based learning, astrophysics, high school education, intersection of professionalisms


PIXEL - Picture (of) the Universe is a board game developed by INAF - Italian National Institute for Astrophysics in collaboration with GAME Science Research Center. The game simulates the astrophysics research environment, particularly emphasising the observation and study of cosmic bodies at different resolutions. ​​Image resolution is a crucial element in astrophysics, but the intrinsic complexity and challenges of making high-resolution images of the distant Universe are not easily and generally perceivable. We envisioned PIXEL driven by this challenge. Games intended to engage students with science either concentrate on the contents to foster the learning process or focus on life skills solicited by scientific practices. Game mechanics are then either a leverage of scientific knowledge or a science-like behavioural model, depending on the expected outcome of the game-based learning process.   In addition to that, game-based learning in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) generally is designed by science practitioners and science communication and education experts.  The design process of PIXEL has been a novel joint effort between scientists, science communicators, professional game designers, and game-market and award advisors. We produced a game in which the mechanics are the core of scientific learning, implicitly telling about science while making the player experience it. The innovation of this process is to obtain a game that encountered positive feedback both from the community of game experts and the educational context. The final output is a professional board game suitable for STEM education that promotes scientific citizenship in the audience.
In this work, we discuss the game design process and describe how we included our scientific educational messages of image resolution and research dynamics as processes within the game mechanics without making them explicit during the gameplay. We also present a preliminary engagement evaluation of PIXEL and its efficacy in delivering implicit scientific messages through its mechanics.