Hi! I'm CHAIM GINGOLD, a designer and theorist who creates and studies powerful representations for playing with, learning about, and reshaping the world. My design expertise and research interests encompass games, play, simulations, authoring tools, cities, and the history of technology.

My projects have been featured by WIRED, CNN, Apple, and the New York Times. I work at Y Combinator Research and have some degrees: a Ph.D. in Computer Science (UC Santa Cruz), a M.S. in Digital Media (Georgia Tech), and a B.S. in Computer Science (WVU).



La Tabla

Mixed Reality Playspace (2017)

La Tabla is a magical table—put things on it and they come to life. This is an experiment in making a radically embodied and open ended computerized plaything.

Make music, play pong, design and play your own pinball tables, and create animations with your body, your friends, paper, drawings, game pieces—whatever strikes your fancy. La Tabla achieves this by combining computer vision, projection mapping, and design principles that anticipate and encourage open ended play and appropriation.


Project made in collaboration with Luke Iannini, with contributions from Paula Te, and support from Y Combinator Research / HARC.

Play Design

Ph.D. dissertation (2016)

I did my Ph.D. research on play and the history of computing.

My thesis argues that it is productive to consider playthings, playmates, playgrounds, and play practices as constituting a set with shared design characteristics. SimCity, a software plaything that confounds game-centric approaches (e.g. game studies and game design), is the keystone in an arch of case studies that takes us from some of the earliest examples of computer simulation all the way to model cities enacted with children, cardboard, and costumes, and unusual playgrounds made of junk.

Gingold, Chaim. “Play Design.” Ph.D. thesis, University of California Santa Cruz, 2016.
Committee: Michael Mateas (advisor), Nancy Chen, Henry Lowood, Janet Murray, Noah Wardrip-Fruin.

Earth: A Primer

A science book made of simulation toys (2015)

Earth: A Primer is a critically acclaimed blend of toy and science book that WIRED described as “an inspiring design experiment, and a reminder that interactive media is a young and undeveloped world itself.”

I designed, programmed, produced, and funded this award winning project. It has been featured and garnered awards widely—from CNN, WIRED, Fast Company, and Apple, to IndieCade and the American School Libraries Association.

App Store (iPad)


Conference co-chair (2013)

IndieCade is the premier festival for independent games, and has been called the “the video game industry's Sundance” (L.A. Times).

I co-chaired the IndieCade 2013 conference in Culver City with John Sharp and Brenda Romero. Together, we curated talks, invited speakers, and scheduled the conference program. Our goals were to highlight play, the history of games, and bring together a diverse set of voices.

This was a lot of work, but it was also a ton of fun—especially to see the final conference happen after many months of preparation.

IndieCade's YouTube channel

Simulation for Games

Undergraduate course (2013)

I developed and taught a special topics course at U.C. Santa Cruz about simulation for games.

In this studio based course, every week students produced a one page design document and a working prototype employing the week‘s simulation topic. Final projects are prototypes of interactive explanations for Wikipedia.

The course covered a spectrum of simulation approaches prototyping and visual design communication. We went deep into the simulation topics by looking in detail at particular computer games, their design history, and source code (where possible), with a particular emphasis on SimCity. Relevant readings and game playing were assigned, and improv games were used to critique and sharpen our designs.

Course site

Lattice image from Burks, Arthur Walter, ed. Essays On Cellular Automata. University of Illinois Press, 1970.

Catastrophic Prototyping and Other Stories

Book section (2008)

As essay on prototyping I wrote for one of the most popular game design textbooks.

This essay was originally published in Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop (2008). I had given talks in the past on prototyping, but this was the first essay I wrote on the topic, and I think it holds up. Thanks, Tracy, for convincing me to write this! If you’re interested in more, you might want to check out the Advanced Prototyping talk Chris Hecker and I gave at GDC 2006.

Read online

Gingold, Chaim. “Catastrophic Prototyping.” In Game Design Workshop, by Tracy Fullerton, 2nd ed. CRC Press, 2008.

Design Consulting

Freelance design & prototyping

After working with Will Wright on Spore I started doing some freelance design consulting.

I've consulted for clients such as Valve, Linden Lab, and Minority Media, pitching new products, providing design mentorship, and developing prototypes for experimental hardware/software platforms.

A Brief History of Spore

Book chapter (2009)

An insider history of the award winning computer game Spore; published in an MIT Press book.

This essay was written part way through Spore’s development, and describes one of the biggest transitions the project made — unknown to many — from what could have been a SimEarth like game/science toy to a capital-G computer Game. It tells how Spore made some of its early, and most crucial, navigational decisions down the branches of design possibility, to use Will Wright’s language.

Read online

Originally published in Harrigan, Pat, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, eds. Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2009.

Character illustrations by John Cimino; SimEverything box design by Will Wright.


Designer (2008)

I was the design lead for Spore’s critically acclaimed creative tool suite, e.g. the Spore Creature Creator, which has been used to make over 189 million creations. The New York Times described Spore (2008) as a “scintillating, empowering toy,” and praised the “genius bestowed on Spore’s creative facilities.”

In 2002, I was handpicked by Will Wright (SimCity, The Sims) for Spore’s nucleic R&D team. Responsibilities also included design and prototyping across the entire project, directing interns, and interfacing with journalists.

Spore's Magic Crayons

Game Developers Conference (2007)

I presented a design talk on Spore at the Game Developer's Conference.

This talk was about how to design player creativity tools and toys. I draw upon many examples from Spore, and my experience designing Spore's Creators. I wrote this talk after the the Spore creative tool suite had come together—after something like four years of design and prototyping.

The talk covers a range of key ideas: mastery, constructionism, the Pinocchio effect (coming to life), design thinking, and possibility space shaping. I think the most important idea is modeling the deep structure of a domain in a way that fits the expectations and expertise of all the participants: players, artists, programmers, designers, and the computer itself. I barely touched on many of the techniques we realized, such as the deep work we did with 3d interaction design. As a result, I'd like to revisit this subject at some point, probably as a lushly illustrated long-form essay.

Download Keynote slides.
Download PowerPoint slides.

Gingold, Chaim. “Spore’s Magic Crayons.” Game Developers Conference, 2007.

Advanced Prototyping

Game Developers Conference (2006)

Chris Hecker and I gave this top rated talk on advanced prototyping techniques at the 2006 Game Developers Conference. Most of our examples came from the game Spore.

By the time we gave this talk I had probably created dozens of prototypes for Will Wright and the Spore team, and had given a talk the year before on “Lightweight Prototyping” at the GDC Experimental Gameplay Workshop.

We also gave this talk as an invited keynote for the Montreal International Games Summit, and at Ubisoft. It was written up in GameSpy, Joystiq, and Gamasutra. One of our goals was to give a good two person talk, which we think we accomplished. Chris's page describes some of our lessons learned.

Chris Hecker's page on this talk.
Download PowerPoint slides.
Download MP3.

Gingold, Chaim and Chris Hecker. “Advanced Prototyping.” Game Developers Conference, 2006.

What WarioWare can teach us about Game Design

Journal of Game Studies (2005)

Review article for the Journal of Game Studies.

WarioWare pushes the boundaries of game size and complexity, the speed at which we can adapt to new games, and game fictions, to the breaking point. Through these formal experiments, WarioWare demonstrates how complexity can be achieved through combining micro games into bigger games, the range of free play between fiction and rules available to designers, and the role of continuity in games.


Gingold, Chaim. “What WarioWare Can Teach Us about Game Design.” Game Studies 5, no. 1 (2005).

Miniature Gardens & Magic Crayons

M.S. Thesis (2003)

My masters thesis explored the aesthetics of game worlds, and described the authoring tools I built as part of my project work.

I use the key concepts of world, space, and game to emphasize the properties and possibilities of the digital medium, and link it to other genres and practices. This thesis proposes conceptual tools for thinking across genres, and is an example of how one can study game structure and aesthetics through close analysis.

I'm still surprised and delighted to meet people—well over a decade after I published this—who have read and enjoyed it. Looking back, it's fun to see how integral remixing genres is to my design practice.

Read online
Download PDF

Gingold, Chaim. “Miniature Gardens & Magic Crayons: Games, Spaces, & Worlds.” M.S. thesis, Georgia Institute of Technology, 2003.
Committee: Janet Murray (advisor), Michael Mateas, Sha Xin Wei, Will Wright.