Final Reflection

Before this class, I thought a “serious” game design under the computer science department would focus on creating gamification experiences. My mind jumped to services such as Duolingo or Mint that employ gamification to increase user retention, etc. etc. When I thought of “games” in the traditional sense, the idea of combining education with games evoked images of “” or “cooking mama” – which although definitely have their own user bases, I personally never found too engaging. They felt like chocolate covered Brussel sprouts – attempts to trick the user that they’re having “fun” when in reality the core is a boring educational model. In both of these cases, I was happily proven wrong.

This class was a phenomenal introduction to the theory and application of what “serious games” really are. I’m glad this course wasn’t about gamification of SAAS, for learning about traditional games diversified my education in a direction I’ve never considered before. Learning about how crucial the “magic circle” was in creating the game’s fun and promoting user flow was one of the first topics that stood out to me. It was a pivotal moment when I truly understood that the “magic circle” is dependent on the visuals, the mechanics, and player behavior; it cannot exist if any one of these pillars was lackluster. This was compounded by our own experiences playing new games in the beginning of each class. For example, Casting Shadows did a great job in helping me visualize the world in which the creatures lived in, yet the poor mechanics and confusing rules lead to a overly slow pace and lackluster experience that quickly broke any semblance of a magic circle. It was these components that my team and I actively looked to integrate into our P4 redesign of our P2 project. We proactively ensured that the mechanics and visuals harmonized together to shape intended player behavior.

Another critical learning experience was critically thinking about the core game mechanics and the feedback loops that are created. The concept maps we had to create for our P3 assignment was a fantastic way of breaking down nebulous, and partially emergent systems into concrete and digestible relationships with one another. Further, in sitting down and drawing out these relationships, my P3 group helped recognize flaws in our original thinking / player behavior nuances that we didn’t expect. Most of all, doing so helped align all of us on the same page – after mapping out the feedback loops and core mechanic, we realized that there was even some discrepancies with how we each thought the game was supposed to be played ourselves! What was most thought-provoking about understanding the higher-level systems within the game was recognizing that there are effective ways of abstracting real-world systems that can be taught via fun games without making it feel overly “educational” or “trying too hard.” In order to do so, it must ensure that the game’s core mechanic not only operates well, but prioritizes its value as a game first and serves as an educational tool second. Any game the other way around simply wouldn’t be engaging enough.

Perhaps most helpful from this class was the applied design thinking process we employed every week. The constant iteration and the stressing of “shitty prototypes” for the first few playtests was such a great hands-on process in seeing how much ideas can change via iteration. Sure, I’ve learned about this process from previous courses at the, and everyone at Stanford has at one point heard of the “lean startup” model / “agile project management”. Yet, actually employing it during class, forcing us past the discomfortable of putting bare-bones low-fidelity versions of our game in front of audiences, was such an important mindset shift. The in-class time playtesting and the quick turnaround times for our prototypes were invaluable in forcing us to truly adopt this iterative framework. This is the thing I think I’ll take away most from this class. Rather than back and forth arguments in my head or with teammates trying to visualize how ideas might work or about the direction a game (or any product, in that matter) should take, I now know the easy solution. “Sure! Why not? Let’s just try it even if we don’t entirely know what it looks like yet. See what someone thinks!”. Or the way I like to put it: “fuck around and find out.”

This class was a 10/10 experience and honestly I can confidently say this was the first quarter at Stanford where I’ve actually felt like I’m genuinely learning/gaining an education from Stanford. From previously taking massive 400 person CS lecture-based and pset-based courses, to now taking HCI classes where the teachers actually are the ones teaching the class and the teaching staff provides genuine attention, I am so so glad I enrolled in this course.

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