Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Are Designers Playing Too Many Games?

Game designers tend to agree that playing games helps you learn about how to design them.

For example, in Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman write, "Students should play every possible kind of game, digital and non-digital, contemporary and historical, masterpiece and stinker."

They give several good reasons why, including the fact that designers need to learn how games function to create experiences, and they need to see what does and doesn't work about design choices.

Yet, Raph Koster offers a word of warning in his book, A Theory of Fun for Game Design.

He writes, "They [game designers] build up encyclopedic recollections of games past and present, and they then theoretically use these to make new games."

So what's the problem? Essentially, due to the way human brains work, designers are more likely to pull from their existing mental library of game design solutions than they are to try to innovate new ones.

Raph writes, "The most creative and fertile game designers working today tend to be the ones who make a point of not focusing too much on other games for inspiration."

So, the very library of knowledge that designers must build in order to understand and design games can prevent them from exploring new potential game designs.

How do we get around this?

Game designers, of all people, need to "stay ahead of the game." Not playing as many games probably isn't going to help.

Perhaps simply having an awareness of our 'mental game libraries' can help designers choose whether or not to select a solution from them.

Perhaps, too, we can be mindful of fun wherever it occurs. For example, it might be worthwhile to make note when you see yourself or others having fun outside of a formal game environment, and ask yourself how you could bring that experience into a game.

1 comment:

Ryan Shwayder said...

My mental library includes good design decisions and bad design decisions. I eliminate anything in between. The good decisions, I analyze and may use (but always try to find a better way). The bad decisions, I find a better way. This assumes that I am tackling the same basic problem meant to be solved by one of the decisions.

Without playing a lot of games, I wouldn't have that to draw from. I would make the same mistakes as others, and it would be far more difficult to do better than the best out there without knowing it intimately.

It would be a mistake to avoid playing games intentionally in order to stay "fresh." I do agree that some of the most innovative ideas come from people without a lot of design experience, but honestly you need to sacrifice that freshness for experience if you want to be a great designer.

I'd also challenge that some of the most innovative ideas have come from truly great, extremely experienced game designers who have managed to harness the best of both experience and new ideas.

This is something I aspire to personally. Lately, I've been forcing myself to think with fewer restrictions. I tend to have a pretty logical approach to things that I design, and I like to make it possible to implement, even when I'm concepting something. It helps having a few people here who can think completely without the grounding that I think with, and I think I've been getting much better about thinking "outside the box" lately.

These postings are mine alone, have not been reviewed or approved by any employer or company, and do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone but me.