I took a class called Symsys 245 (Cognition in Interaction Design) back in Winter, and my final project focused on how players first learn how to play a game and how designers may intentionally create levels and tutorials to facilitate that learning journey. I thought game design was something simple, but that was because I hadn’t played or built enough games — the process of teaching someone the mechanics of your game and what exactly is going on in the narrative was a much harder and more enjoyable process than I had expected.
Something that really stuck with me from one of the lectures was how current games center around their mechanics as compared to the genre, resulting in categories like “first-person shooter”. I thought about that a lot during the second game, noting many times how easy it was to get lost in the mechanics while leaving placeholder dialogue until the last minute. I feel like I had to ask myself what we were building and how exactly we were getting there constantly, which helped the team build out a game that was narratively incomplete, but in a direction that would lead us towards one as compared to a meaningless puzzle game. I think something important I learned was to keep things simple, especially in the beginning. When too many elements get into the mix, it can get really confusing to think about what exactly you’re testing every time someone playtests, and what exactly needs to change. I feel like this is important in any group project in academia or work to always start small and simple, keep getting feedback, and iterate on a smaller scale.
One of my biggest challenges in this class was understanding my own role in a group project. I’m not the most design inclined or the most technical, and I usually lean towards more organization/writing roles (PM). Honestly, that led to me feeling useless many times in the process. While my teammates were coding or creating cool art or sick sounds, I was writing up notes or figuring out when the next thing was due. I was really trying not to let it get to me — I know that when I start trying to do too much, I start getting reallyyyyyy annoying and insecure in my own abilities. I just tried to focus on what I could contribute and where there was space for me to fit in, like in documentation, user testing, or brainstorming more and more ideas for what could come next. I feel like I had to stay a step ahead not in implementation, but in prioritization and deadlines. I guess this was good practice for me since product management is where I’ll be after graduation, but it was also notable the feelings of uselessness I felt. I wonder if this was an important learning experience for me to explore other careers and other skill sets.
Overall, I’m so grateful for this class. Sure, I had a hard time. Games are hard. But also simpler than I thought. More than anything, I’ve learned about the culture around gaming and how I can be a better game designer, and I feel very lucky to have been able to fit this class into my schedule this quarter. Thank you so much!