CS 377G — Final Reflection Essay

Before taking this class, I had never taken a game design class. I have taken other design classes in the past, but they mainly focused on UI/UX design of websites and apps. As a CS major, I have always been more interested in UI/UX design of digital experiences, but I wanted to explore a different side of design— in a more traditional mechanical medium. I grew up playing board games, like most kids in the US, but I had never thought about them from the designer’s perspective and how the combination of the mechanics gave way to different dynamics to reach desired aesthetics. Getting a more academic perspective on these concepts and how games came to be was very interesting to me and gave me many moments of insight. Even though we did explore the digital medium with IF games, I very much enjoyed the analog focus of this class. I think the focus on analog games gave us a perspective to design that spans past the limitations of the digital world that we are often used to thinking about in CS but instead brought us back to a medium of gameplay that we are all familiar with, which I found very interesting and valuable. Overall, designing and making analog games was extremely fun. More fun than I thought it would be. I am very crafty, so making them felt more like a hobby than something to do for an academic class.

The first few classes were particularly impactful to the way I saw and approached game design. During the first class, Christina asked us to use paper and colored pencils to draw a path for a game (like Candy Land) and to come up with a set of rules for our game. In that moment we all created random things and had to think off of the top of our heads and be very creative with it in such a short amount of time. The games were all very simple, and not very fleshed out, but they were games that we came up with in 20 minutes. This was the first introduction to one of the most valuable learnings I am leaving this class with. Just get some out. Just go for it, and prototype something quick. Then get feedback and go from there. The first version should be primitive and crappy. When it comes to design we tend to focus on the final product and its aesthetics but I have never learned to value the process to its fullest extent and how we did not have to arrive at that beautiful version from the very start. In the following classes, we spent making different kinds of games with different mechanics in the moment, super quickly. We worked with the materials we had at hand and just went for it. I think this initial “just go for it” is a scary thing to overcome for a lot of people getting into design and that goes for me specifically too. One of the games I made during class with my classmates came about me just looking at the random materials that Christina provided and grabbing what was interesting. The game evolved from those “game pieces” and it came together in a very natural way. In this class, I learned that there are many ways to approach an initial design, but the important thing is to just go for it, get something out, and get some playtesting done, and the game will come together with time and iteration. This came very handy when I worked on P1, P2, and P3, with Legacies and Ca$h or Credit.

Believe it or not, another very valuable thing I learned from this class was the place that rough sketching has in the world of design. I have always rough sketched things, but when it came to sketching clearer concepts like people, emotions, and interactions, I started being a little too detailed because I was afraid of messiness with my sketching. The sketch notes were helpful to get me to feel less self-conscious about my artistic abilities when it came to using them within these concepts. Initially, these sketch notes took a long time to get done because I was having a hard time converting the notes I would typically take to doodle format. It felt like translating from one language to another. I also came in with the need for the notes to be aesthetically pleasing and the doodles to be neat. The combination of the new thought process and perfectionism that I have a hard time letting go of, made it a difficult thing to take on at first. But over time. I felt less and less intimated by it and cared less and less about how it looked and more about what I put in and if I could use the notes later on. During the class, I did go back to my sketch notes and they were super super helpful. Since I had to read the readings in greater depth to process the ideas and translate those into diagrams and sketches, the sketch notes helped me recall the details I had processed during the original read. I see the value of not needing that much text within the notes to still be useful. But also forcing me to doodle and draw helped me feel more confident using those quick sketch skills in other design tasks, whether in this class, other classes, or other design projects. 

I will be honest, I did not enjoy the IF part of this class. I had never written fiction and I felt fully outside of my comfort zone with it. Also, I felt so limited by the mediums we were able to use and felt forced to focus on my writing, which I did not enjoy. I don’t know if it would be more fun to learn how to make small games with a game engine or something closer to what we associate with digital games (like those from cool math games). Having to focus on the written words of the story, took away from the fun I was having with the general design of the mechanics and dynamics of the experience that we got to have with the other analog games. I understand that this class is not CS heavy and I understand that incorporating a bigger technical aspect to accomplish making smaller, more interactive digital games might not be feasible for this class. However, making the IF game a smaller project or something done more in class might be better and more enjoyable within the context of the class.

In general, I enjoyed this course. It was different than any other course I have ever taken. This was my first quarter at Stanford, and I was super thankful to have this class be part of that experience for me. I have gained a greater appreciation of the art of design and its many many applications, and I will take advantage of all of the lessons from this class in my future career. I think I will continue to make games in the future, maybe not professionally, but as a hobby or extra activity to make family gatherings more interesting. Thank you to Christina and Amy for making this class so much fun and the three-hour lectures fly by.

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