My family has always loved to play games, especially Fantasy and Narrative-based games like escape rooms and Secret Hitler. We have tons of board games in my house, and when I was home over quarantine, we often played games as a family after dinner. During fall quarter, my mom created her own escape room in our house for the rest of us to enjoy. I promised her I’d make an escape room for the family too, and I did build a vertical slice of it. However, fall quarter became so busy that I could not finish the game, and then I returned to campus in the winter.
During winter quarter, my parents discovered Board Game Arena, an online “board” game platform, and almost every night would ask me if I had time to play games with them. At the beginning of the quarter, we played games almost every night, but when my classwork started to pile up, I felt anxious and guilty when I spent too much time playing games, and our Board Game Arena sessions became less frequent.
This quarter, during the first class of CS 247G, we created mods of Rock-Paper-Scissors. I played my game with my parents over Zoom, and was gratified when they seemed to enjoy it. As the quarter progressed, we learned about the different types of fun a game can have, as well as how to balance the difficulty of a game and incorporate appropriately-challenging puzzles into a narrative-based game without breaking the narrative. Through playtesting, I learned how to interpret certain reactions that playtesters gave that suggested I should adjust these elements of my game. For instance, if a playtester showed signs of wanting to give up on a puzzle (e.g. asking for too-specific hints), I would lower the difficulty. When conducting later playtests of my project 1 game, Hitched Without A Hitch, and my project 2 game, No Trace, I realized how satisfying it was to see people having the exact types of fun that I designed the games to have. For example, I was excited to see one group of playtesters get so into the Fantasy and Narrative aspects of Hitched Without a Hitch that they spent thirty minutes creating backstories for their characters. And when one pair of No Trace playtesters spent a long time on one puzzle and then succeeded without any hints, they exclaimed that they felt so smart, but still “should have gotten it earlier,” and I felt that the game’s Challenge aesthetic was successful.
Thus, through experiencing games as a designer, I realized that one of the main purposes of games (and thus, my goal when adjusting games after playtesting) was to direct people’s attention away from their stress by having them role-play or solve challenging puzzles; that is, to allow players to have fun. At the same time, when playing other games, including my classmates’ games and Board Game Arena games, I started to notice the types of fun, difficulty balancing, and other design features of the games. When I thought about these features, I realized that I wanted to enjoy them and the overall game experiences they created–the same way I aimed to have people enjoy the games I designed. Thus, I started to “commit” more to games when playing–I allowed myself to fully immerse myself in game’s challenges, fantasies, narratives, and other aesthetics. And I found that I enjoyed myself so much more! This quarter, I’ve played more Board Game Arena games with my parents than I did last quarter; when I allow myself to fully be in the moment, these virtual game nights have been a wonderful way for me to escape my stress for a short time.
In the future, I will continue to design escape rooms and other story-based games, taking the techniques I’ve learned in this class into account. And of course, I look forward to playing–and enjoying–many more games with my family and friends.