Final Class Reflection — Alex Tsai

I grew up playing games with my family and friends as a multiplayer, social activity, whether it was playing Monopoly or Life at family reunions or playing Settlers of Catan during game nights with my friends. I had always enjoyed games as a casual pastime to play with others, but never considered why they brought me so much meaning and joy. Through taking CS247G, I gained a better understanding of what makes a game effective, fun, and meaningful. In turn, I also was able to think critically about what kind of games I enjoy, giving me the opportunity to learn more about myself and experience personal exploration and growth in the process.

Before this class, I thought that the best kinds of games were multiplayer games that require in-person socialization. I could never understand why my brother could spend hours playing Fortnite with strangers. Games that didn’t foster person-to-person socialization with close friends seemed meaningless to me. But when the pandemic hit and my family went into isolation, I turned to digital games for the first time. I played with strangers, online Codenames during virtual happy hour with coworkers, and Minecraft with my brothers. I didn’t grow up playing digital games as a kid — my parents were strict with screen time, so when I started playing more digital games during the pandemic, I felt like I was exposed to a whole new world of games. This piqued a newfound interest in game design. Thus, I decided to take CS247G to learn more about the analog games I loved as a kid and the digital games I discovered during the pandemic — and to experience some of the digital games that I wasn’t allowed to play as a kid 😉 I wanted to understand what makes games so universally loved and enjoyed.

One class concept that resonated with me is the idea of playtesting and how it relates to the innovation cycle. I took several classes about entrepreneurship at Stanford, and one of the key approaches to innovation I learned about was the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach. The MVP approach is an iterative process relying on prototyping and soliciting customer feedback to understand needs and pain points. The MVP is a version of a product that has just enough features to be usable and testable. This continuous cycle is focused on incremental development. This was exactly parallel to the playtesting we learned about and conducted in class. What stuck with me most was that even though games aren’t designed to solve a pain point or need, playtesting is crucial to game design. There is no better way to predict how a player might interact with a game than by observing them do it. In addition, game design is highly iterative, something I appreciated thanks to my entrepreneurship classes. In class, we were encouraged to playtest frequently with small  “testable cores,” which were akin to a MVP. CS247G helped me view game designers as entrepreneurs, consistently iterating on games and incorporating user feedback. Finally, an entrepreneur finds product-market fit, which is the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand. For a game designer, product-market fit can be reached when they have found the perfect target audience.

Another concept that resonated with me was types of fun in games. I was surprised that there were so many types of fun, each distinct from one another. I found it eye-opening to understand the level of intentionally that went into designing a game and evoking a specific type of fun. I finally understood why I loved board games like Monopoly and Settlers of Catan: because they fostered fellowship with other players. This allowed me to better understand myself as well, because learning about the fun of fellowship made me realize that the activities I most enjoy have a social component — I am a team player and people person. I also challenged myself by playing more games that evoked types of fun other than fellowship. Our walking simulator critical play was particularly memorable for me. I played Places, a single player game with the objective of exploration where the player walks through the environment freely. In such a simple game, I was still able to experience several types of fun. I experienced sensation due to cricket, wind, and footstep sound effects. I experienced discovery as I explored the terrain. I experienced submission as I escaped into the virtual landscape and experienced a meditative feeling as I mindlessly walked through the environment. It blew my mind how such a simple game was able to evoke so many emotions and types of fun.

In class, I played games with both an open mind and critical lens. I also developed 2 novel games of my own and went through the process of game design, play testing, and iterating. I am most proud of the way my team and I incorporated our understanding of types of fun into each game we played, particularly the fun of fellowship.

The most challenging part of class was understanding that not all games are universally appealing. When we playtested our games with several groups, we observed that some players enjoyed the game more than others. It was frustrating to know that some people didn’t find our games as entertaining or fun as we had thought, but it made me understand that not all games can be universally appealing to everyone. Every player is unique — everyone enjoys different types of fun and different narrative architectures. Evaluating a game’s target audience in each critical play helped me understand that there will likely always be a specific niche of people that will enjoy a game more than others.

I grew personally by being more open to more types of games, specifically branching out from games that evoked the fun of fellowship. I had always thought of games as an inherently social activity, but this class gave me a greater appreciation for different types of fun, game architectures, and game mechanics. I learned to enjoy single-player games that allowed me to enjoy games as a form of escapism. I also consciously think about the type of fun I’m having at any given moment. This practice helps me be intentional about the ways I create joy for myself and allows me to create a healthy balance of different types of fun.

In the future, I hope to learn more about creating games with Unity. I playtested a few games developed in Unity, and I was incredibly impressed by the quality of my classmates’ projects.

CS247G gave me a deep appreciation for games as a universal language and game design as an intentional, scientific, thoughtful practice. Class was a safe, welcoming space for me to engage with games and my peers, and I thoroughly enjoyed the type of hands-on learning we did this quarter. I am grateful for Christina, who was an incredibly engaging teacher who cared deeply about her students’ wellbeing and success. I am grateful for Goutham for being a patient, fun, and helpful TA. Finally, I am grateful for my group project teammates Blake, Allie, and Will, who made work feel like play.

About the author

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.