Final Reflection Essay

Before this class, I had never designed a physical board or card game before, only digital video games. Out of the video games I had made before, some were purely for entertainment, but some had messages. However, looking back on those games with what I’ve learned now in this class, I don’t think that I fully integrated the messages with gameplay, and my games probably did not have the teaching effect that I desired. I knew about formal elements of games, having taken CS 247G, but I hadn’t applied them properly to teaching a lesson. This class taught me how to do that.

One thing that was especially helpful throughout this class was the emphasis on always keeping in mind the lesson that my game is teaching while I’m developing your game. Finalizing the message that I wanted to teach before even conceptualizing anything about the game was key. Having that solid message in my head at the beginning of each project really helped kickstart brainstorming ideas for the game’s mechanics, outcomes, story, etc. The message was also a good guideline to have by my side whenever I was stuck or felt like my game was not interesting. For example, in P2, when I was stuck on the ending of the story, I referred back to the message that I wanted to teach and it became clear to me how I had to end it.

In this class, I made three games, one by myself and two with my teammates. The first game we made was Yokaipedia, an Apples-to-Apples or Cards Against Humanity type of game designed to teach people about Japanese yokai, or spirits. We wanted to show the large number and wide variety of them, ranging from silly to spooky, and hopefully teach players about another culture’s folklore. In this game, a prompt card is laid out on the table, while players propose a yokai that would fit that prompt. One prompt that always produced hilarious results “Who would you want as your tennis doubles partner?” Players would have to pick a yokai from their hand and explain how that yokai would be the most helpful partner in this absurd situation. Yokaipedia definitely had the lesson with the least amount of societal impact, but it was fun to make and play nevertheless.

For my second game, I made an interactive fiction game using Twine, called Downwelling. The lesson I wanted to teach was the dangers of hubris and the importance of preparation. I wanted the player to feel what it’s like to not think too much about consequences before doing something exciting yet dangerous, and then suffer those consequences. This would teach them to be more prepared and to not take on more than they are capable of. To teach this lesson, I set up a story about you, the player, who is a young child, and therefore naive. You are on vacation with your mom at a famous diving hole, which is enticing but dangerous. If you jump immediately into the diving hole, you will most certainly drown, since you do not have enough oxygen to make it all the way to the bottom and back up. I force the player to restart the game over and over until they find the exact way to win the game. I think my game was successful and conveyed my intended message. Another unexpected lesson that came out of this game was favoring quality of experience over possessions. At the bottom of the diving hole, the player has an opportunity to take a treasure back with them, but if they do, the treasure weighs them down and they will drown. I had not intended for this lesson, but it was an added bonus.

For the third project, I worked with the same team that I had on the first game. My team made a game called Tragedy of the Commons, which, as expected, teaches a lesson about the phenomenon of the same name. For this game, we actually had a lot of trouble at the beginning, since our initial message was muddled and we couldn’t make game mechanics that would convey that message accurately. Originally, our message was just teaching “community living,” and this was very vague. But once we solidified our message, the rest was much easier. During this project, the thing that was most important was playtesting over and over to see not only if our players were having fun, but also if they felt that the message was being conveyed fully. We continued to further refine this project for P4, adding more to convey that message by introducing color, fonts, and flavor text on our game pieces.

When I go to make games in the future, I will keep in mind the concepts about serious games that I learned in this class. To be honest, I still don’t think I have really designed a board game, since both P1 and P3 that my team and I designed only utilized cards and pieces, not a board. I think it would be nice in the future to design a game that has an actual board, like what some of my classmates made. I think it would be more challenging, since there is one more component of the game to visualize and playtest, but it would be fun!

Game designers talking to other game designers about game design BINGO

Terms and concepts that I learned for the first time or reviewed in this course:

  1. Flow
  2. System
  3. Iteration
  4. Playtest
  5. Player feedback
  6. Feedback loop
  7. Player expectations/perception
  8. Balance
  9. Prototype
  10. Core mechanics
  11. MDA(O)
  12. Learning curve
  13. Game loop
  14. Agency

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