Final Reflection – Elizabeth Fitzgerald

In Fall of 2018, I entered Stanford with full confidence that I would study artificial intelligence and enjoy it. This certainty was almost immediately dashed against the cold, unforgiving floor of Huang Basement. My workload was overwhelming, and I was consistently outclassed by my peers. Even though I found my footing over time, I felt out of place in the department. In my application to the CS coterm, I wrote about how I had discovered my love for computer science. I’m ashamed to admit that this was a bit disingenuous – in reality, I had simply made my peace with a career I was discontent with, but able to perform well in.

However, I’m happy to report that I have finally found passion and belonging in game design. I love creating things that spark joy in people and educate them at the same time. I firmly believe that if you’re going to make a product, it should be something that benefits at least one single person and makes them just a little happier. What better way to tell a story, create an experience, and move people to change than with games? Also, game design requires you to critically analyze fun things like game mechanics and ludonarrative dissonance, and I could happily do that all day long!

My first game design class was CS 247G, taken in Spring quarter of last year. It was a whirlwind experience that exposed me to new ways of thinking and creating. I thrived under the fast deadlines and opportunities for creative expression. At the same time, I found that the work I was doing in class inspired new ideas for personal projects, such as writing and art. For our final project, I (nicely) convinced my group to make an escape room in a box. I have never worked so hard on a project for my own interest before that, pouring in dozens of hours individually. My efforts were encouraged further when I played it over the summer with my family and saw that they really enjoyed it, even if it needed more work.

Determined to continue my study of game design, I enrolled in CS 377G this fall. I loved everything about this course. Even when I came to class exhausted from other homework, I was excited to play games. Honestly, the work I saw from other students this quarter was really phenomenal across the board. I was pushed to think even more critically about my games’ mechanics and how they encode values and meaning. While all of the work I did in this class was a blast, I’ll focus on projects two and three for this reflection.

Project 2, Cappy, was an opportunity to work on a game and narrative entirely by myself. I enjoy group projects when I have a good team, but I love having full creative control over my projects. Since I had no teammates to keep me in check, I poured at least a dozen hours into drafting and writing the story alone. Then, I poured at least another dozen hours into wiring up the game in Twine. Ultimately, I had 111 passages in my story and my main conclusion was that I just did too much!! However, after reading my players’ feedback, it seems like people really enjoyed the story and the emotions I conveyed. Frankly, their reviews were an awesome confidence boost! However, my real takeaway from project 2 was learning to use Twine. I’ve already envisioned a number of games. In fact, I’m currently making my parents a little game in Twine for Christmas this year. This software is awesome and I will be using it for a lot of things in the future!

Project 3, breaking my silence, has also been a lot of fun to because I had a good group and our concept is actually really engaging. It also taught me that I love systems games. I think modeling a game off of a real world system (or fictional one, if you want to get crazy) is absolutely genius. Modeling our game off of Youtube drama has also made for hilarious playtests, especially with college-aged students. Ultimately, working on system games has shaped my philosophy – if the system in which players operate is sound, and their options are clear, then the game will run seamlessly and communicate an effective message or narrative. I also enjoy the challenge of making a game that reflects the real world but is also entertaining to players who don’t know how the system really works.

The kind of game I want to make in the future will be a combination of interactive fiction and systems games – aka, RPGs. I love the player agency and narrative elements of IF, but also the rigid mechanics of systems games. I think games like the Elder Scrolls series, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Souls-likes are where I want to be. However, it will likely be an independent project with a small team of developers, rather than working for a large game company. The other thing I really appreciated about CS 377G was the opportunity to learn more about the game development industry and what it really looks like. Unfortunately, I don’t think working in industry is for me, as I fear that it would kill my creative drive outside of work.

TL;DR – I loved this class. I learned to pursue the things I’m actually passionate about, keep my creative drive in check while also letting it thrive, and man, do I love systems games.

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