In a couple words to sum up this quarter in CS247, it has truly been the craziest shit.
Pardon my French, but imagine you are a student who has never in his life been obsessed with games (except Zoo Tycoon), but takes a class on game design and realizes…he’s actually in love with making games. One might ask why I would take such a class given my initial disposition, and the answer is curiosity – I didn’t even need the credits. I thought that games were just a mysterious concept – they were just not very stimulating to me — and that I ought to use my free time in Spring to learn about something out of my comfort zone.
I never thought of myself as a “game” person. Prior to this class, I thought being a “game” person meant playing League of Legends for hours and sitting at my gamer chair in front of ten monitors with my headset yelling at people in Romania about how they’re ruining my attack. This depiction of gaming might reveal my hilariously out-of-touch perception of the world of games and the players who immerse themselves in those games.
In addition to my lack of awareness of games and how they function, when I did play games, I never thought about game design much like people who casually listen to music don’t think about the production techniques employed to make their favorite radio hit.
However, upon taking this course, I experienced a paradigm shift that I have only experienced a handful of times in my life. This shift can be characterized as if someone yanked back the curtain on a stage, revealing all the inner workings of a musical production: the wires, the lights, the assistants running around frantically, the costumes, the dressing rooms…all of it. I suddenly understood how games operate under the hood; I understood that they’re not magic black boxes but rather thoughtful and methodical pieces of art that involve decision-making frameworks that can be learned and observed. This shift led to what I can now attest to as an inundation of appreciation for games and a heightened sense of awareness about what is “really going on” in these games. My mind has been altered from a typical consumer to an analytical consumer.
Several class concepts stick with me and influence my game playing experience, but also my work experiences. When I play Zoo Tycoon on Friday nights or Secret Hitler with my friends, I immediately think of two readings, the one on 8 types of fun and the one on Formal Elements of Games. I notice what type of fun these games want us to experience and how they implemented mechanics for that purpose: Secret Hitler being a fellowship driven game (in my opinion) reveals so much more depth to the designers decisions, such as having people vote on chancellors, having people implement policies and work together. They carefully designed the game to be social, and I hadn’t even appreciated that until this course.
I notice the formal elements of the game almost immediately when I play games now, checking off a list in my head “Players, Outcomes, Boundaries, Resources, Rules, Procedures, Objectives, etc.” When I make websites or applications in my free time, I’ve started to think about the reading on “Onboarding w/Plants vs. Zombies” where I gleaned that I much prefer implementing tutorials that are “blended” into the game, not tutorials that feel like tutorials. This has manifested in several examples where I don’t present tutorials immediately to users, but rather when a situation in which a user confronts a new detail of an application arises, I present a quick tooltip to offer them help in figuring out the changes. There’s no reason people need to go through huge tutorials on features they probably won’t even use.
Through this class, I experienced the challenges of wanting to build games but having such a strict definition for what constituted a game that I found it hard to think outside the box. I couldn’t imagine what games I wanted to invent, because I didn’t understand what a game truly is, what it can be. I kept reinventing charades, pictionary, and many pop-culture hits, because I didn’t know enough about what makes a game a game to create one myself.
However, through project 2 specifically, I have grown as a game designer. I have pushed myself to think broadly about what constitutes a game and narrow in on what I truly want: an immersive experience where creative liberties are taken by designers to enhance storytelling, artistic expression, and in which contain really hard puzzles. Most importantly, I have learned that I am a game person. I love designing games and thinking about how I can surprise my players and meet their expectations artistically, difficulty-wise, narratively, and this project showed me that.
As I keep working on my games (that I’ve begun making this quarter for fun – which is insanely bizarre of me to do if you know me), the one thing I will always remember is that games can be whatever I want them to be, and I can design them how I would like. Through this class, I’ve discovered what works for me in the game design process; picking the type of fun first, then broadly sketching out a storyline and then filling it in with all the details incrementally. This may not be the process for everyone, but in the games I work on now, it has helped me open my creativity and try new approaches without getting bogged down in an immense quantity of details.
The ironic thing about this class is that although it’s known for being a CS course, it really should be marketed as a philosophy class in some aspects. I came in thinking I’d learn about games like Tic-Tac-Toe, Charades, Dungeons & Dragons, and I’ve left ruminating over how game design principles are so glaringly present in life itself. I see principles of game design, cursed problems, narrative architectures, and other course topics manifesting in my life. Experiencing a class that offers materials that I actually experience and use in the real world has been incredible and I’ve appreciated every moment thus far taking this class.
Best – Dilan