How to create a session using a Digital Video Games Approach

A Digital Video Games Approach (DVGA) borrows design features from video game design and uses these features to design practices for players on the field. However, to make the best use of the way digital video game designers get the ‘gamer’ to think, we need to understand the design process in depth. Amy Price of and Dan Cottrell explain how to do this.

The best way to start learning how to use a DVGA is to see how you would introduce this in a session.

As explained in our previous article, you need to have a game which makes sense for your players in the context of their sport. For rugby, it’s best to start with the rules and principles of the sport and use this to shape a framework for the game.

Some primary rules and key principles for rugby are:

> Score tries: The ball needs to cross over an end line and be in possession of an attacker.

> Backwards passing: The ball can only be propelled backwards by hand. It cannot be thrown, dropped or tapped forwards.

> Stopping the attack: The defence must have some way of stopping the attack and/or gaining possession.

> Temporary stops: There must be some ways for the attack to recycle the possession after a stop, and the defence must give space for the attack to start again.

Let’s say we have 16 players, so we split them into two teams. Then you set up a simple game of touch rugby.

For example, you play on 30m square, with two try zones at each end. A try scored at the edge of the pitch is worth one point, and a try in the middle is worth two points. If a player is touched, they must pass within three seconds, but they can move forward, though they cannot score. We might play 6 rounds of 6 minutes (timings will depend on many factors, and you should adapt this to suit your players).


Next, we need to set out a mission and design levels. You can decide on a mission after you have designed the levels or before.

The mission isn’t a specific technical or tactical objective, like “improve our defence” or “carry the ball forward”. We want the players to think and act strategically about how to achieve the mission. This means they will (hopefully) use various tactics and skills in their endeavours to accomplish the mission. This might feel a little uncomfortable as we relinquish control over explicit technical/tactical objectives.

We use a DVGA to develop players’ metacognitive game skills. Metacognition means thinking about how you think. More information on this can be found here: Why you should be thinking more about metacognition.


1. Planning (generating options)

Are players considering their next move as the game is happening?

2. Setting problems (impacting your opponent’s next move)

Can players see what effect they can have on the opposition and how that can be used to block what the opposition is trying to do?

3. Information gathering (detecting critical information).

For example, a player might want to know if they’re quicker or more skilful than their direct opponent. Can a player, and their teammates, plan for a 1v1 opportunity early on to create that test?


The rules and principles of the game allow us to come up with the levels. The levels are stages of the game which provide problems to the players which need to be solved before you can move to another level. In its simplest form, to move to the next level, you might need to score a number of points.

If we look at our original game, where there were two points for a try in the middle and one for a try at the end, you might say you need to get to 10 points before you unlock the next level.

So what could be the next level? It should be a different challenge, though not so different that the players can’t use some of what they’ve learned from the previous level to their advantage. On the next level, the problem might be more complex than before (more challenging to solve).


For rugby, you can use some key variables inherent in the sport that dictate the complexity of game problems. These are:

> SPACE: more or less space to attack and defend.

> TIME: more or less time to attack and defend.

> PEOPLE: different players with different skill sets.

> NUMBERS: underloads and overloads in attack and defence.

In this game, we might use SPACE to design levels. This could be to make the pitch a different shape. However, this needs to be exclusive to a team that’s made it to the next level. In this case, the only way to do this is to change the try areas’ size. For example, there is one less place to score points. This represents the variable of SPACE – providing less space to score will make the problem in attack more complex and less challenging for the opposition to defend against.

The other essential part of the game is tackling and what happens next. You can vary the way the tackle is made. You can also change the amount of contest for possession after the “tackle”.

For example, if a team levels up, they must go to the ground and pop up the ball when they are touched. The other team stays doing what they were doing before. You will have two different attacking and defensive setups in one game until the other team levels up.

This varies the TIME available for teams in attack and defence.

With PEOPLE, players have their own unique skill set. For example, one player might be strong and fast, whilst another might be a skilled kicker. If a team levels up, maybe the opposing team can choose a transfer. This might depend on the environment you have created and the relationships between players.

Finally, designing levels around NUMBERS means there can be underloads and overloads. If a team levels up, maybe the opponent chooses a player to join their team so they can play with an overload.

Or maybe the team who have levelled up can rotate who leaves the main game to practise individual skills on a different playing area. The player themselves chooses what skill to practise, how, and why. When they come back into the main game, the player can aim to transfer their skill into the game!


Notably, the mission is a broad, open-ended and longer-term goal. There is no rugby-specific language referring to tactics and skills to be practised.

They can decide what the mission can mean to them with guidance from the coach. There must be some shared understanding within the group around what the language in the mission means. The game design will support them to reflect throughout the game on their progress. The levelling-up system provides explicit feedback on their progress to monitor what is working and what isn’t. In doing so, they are developing their metacognitive skills.


The main purpose for using missions and level-ups in your practice design is to develop players’ metacognitive game skills.

Even though a DVGA might result in an enjoyable and engaging way for players to learn, it’s important to remember why we are using it in the first place!

The next article will add the next elements of “Superpowers” and how players can “Pause” the game to develop even more strategic thinking.


Begin with the touch game from above (three-second touch). However, you start with five try zones, each worth one point.

To level up, a team needs to win the 6 minute game.

Here are the levels.

1 Can score in any of the five try zones

2 Can score in any of the four selected try zones

3 Can score in any of the three try selected zones

4 Can  score in any of the two try selected zones

5 Can score in one selected try zone

*When a team levels up, they decide which try zone is eliminated


Score in one try zone of the opponent’s choice, without conceding any points in a game


Here are two possible missions for the game we have designed.

  • To become a team who is consistently effective at both ends of the pitch.
  • To eliminate your try zones faster than the opponent.

Amy Price is an FA Women’s National Coach Developer and coach developer with

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