Final Reflection Essay

Before the class, I thought I might not be able to design games well. This was from many standings: technically, I wasn’t sure I could contribute to projects; experientially, I hadn’t played tons and tons of games like some people have, which made me think I wouldn’t have enough concrete experiences to draw from; and generally, I didn’t know if my ideas were any good to be developed into something that was supposed to be engaging and “fun.” Although I was reassured on the first day of class after hearing that nothing needed to be digital, I still went into the quarter unsure if I would be able to stay.

In the class, though, I gained a greater sense of competence as we worked through each project. I tried to contribute as much as I could in the areas of writing, especially in the storytelling aspect. For this reason, as it might be obvious, I really really loved P2. P2 was also especially important for me to realize that even seemingly inaccessible topics could still resound with people if the experience was thoughtfully and cohesively designed ⁠— even if it wasn’t fun or exciting in the way that games traditionally are. I was able to see from playing a wide range of interactive fiction that the story aspect is indispensable to any sort of game, and should be a skill I continue to work at and advocate for. I also saw the importance of being detailed on a mechanics level. Sometimes I think I’m being too nitpicky when it comes to “correct” writing, but I saw from working on documentation / writeups, rules, and other game pieces that it really is essential to the game experience to be clear, concise, and consistent. Even if players themselves aren’t writing experts or don’t care too much about that aspect, it will still lower the quality of their experience. From P2 I also immensely enjoyed how the individual aspect let people’s personalities shine through, and provided a platform for them to speak on a subject they found especially important and valuable.

Further, throughout each project, I saw the strengths of having a background in education. From both experiences teaching and the theory I am studying now in learning sciences, I was able to critically notice more than I expected ⁠— for example, when certain mechanics didn’t really match intended learning outcomes. For this reason, the MDAO framework paper also really impacted and resonated with me, as I see far too much cheap gamification in the EdTech sphere that relies on surface level features like leaderboards and badges. Consequently, as an educator, I’m so glad I stayed in the class because I believe it’s been essential for me to learn about what games are in their own right ⁠— not just as things to pick apart and use in random activities. At the same time, though, I realized how it is hard to be “serious” without being boring, so striking this balance will be an ongoing challenge for me to think about beyond this class, as I potentially try to bring games into things like my Master’s capstone and other projects. Though I was glad to bring these strengths, I would still really love to improve in or at least learn the basics of aspects that aren’t entirely in my wheelhouse ⁠— like Unity or Figma ⁠— so this is also something I will continue working towards.

Overall, I have learned so much in this class. On a big picture level, I’m pretty sure I simply played more board games cumulatively than I have in my entire life up to now. Though I felt like I was playing catchup, this was in a very fun way, and I learned so much about new genres and forms that I enjoyed a lot. I never knew how complex and unique board games are, and was also stunned by how deeply they can teach topics and themes (my prior experience had really revolved around games like Cards Against Humanity and Sorry!). I hadn’t thought of myself as a board game lover in the past at all, but I think this class has definitely and happily begun to change my mind, and makes me really excited to keep exploring.

I also learned the value of rapid sprints, including quick prototyping followed by rounds of playtesting and iteration, and of course meticulous documentation. As someone undergoing a sort of academic pivot (previous humanities major here), this quarter was truly the first time in my life I have been exposed to this kind of vocabulary, process, and actual practice. It was amazing to realize that when you think there’s absolutely no way you can get things done, you just buckle down and make it happen ⁠— and the quality isn’t too shabby, either! Though it was very stressful at times, especially as a person who gets anxious about reaching out to others for their time, it was invaluable to undergo work with, as well as learn from, so many talented people of different backgrounds and skillsets. Just as important, I got valuable practice in realizing that you can neither design nor please everyone, so you really need to set straight both your intended audience and design values so that you can be happy with what you make.

Tired though I was, this class truly brought me so much joy this quarter ⁠— every Tuesday and Thursday session recharged and revitalized me, and I’m super proud of what I and all my teammates have accomplished. When I go to make games in the future, I will continue working on all the things that challenged me, and this way I’m confident that I’ll keep improving. Thank you 🥹💖!

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