Final Reflection Essay

Going into this class, I didn’t know what to expect. I was worried that I would be way out of my depth, enrolling in a 300 level class with none of the prerequisites, but I was still determined to make it work.

I was surprised by the focus this class placed on design over development. Specifically, we focused on board games and easy-to-use engines (for the interactive fiction assignment), such that the class spent almost no time figuring out how to do things, but rather all of our time actually doing. Though this was unexpected at first, I appreciated this approach because it got us to the root of what making games is about. Game engines come and go, but the skills to make a good game are forever. I felt that in this class, I learned the foundations of game design, not the technical details.

The technique of forcing fast turnaround times, which while at times frustrating to be on the receiving end of, reinforced the theme of learning to do. Even if ideas weren’t perfect, at times it was necessary to simply execute. For example, at the beginning of P1, my team had issues choosing a game topic. But, because of the upcoming deliverable date, we simply had to choose a topic and make a game. This allowed us to spend less time theorizing or thinking and more time doing. By simply making a game and playtesting it, we were able to learn things that just can’t be understood by thinking about how a game might potentially work. As a concrete example, we had no idea whether people would want to learn more about cooking simple or unique dishes. To figure this out, we had to simply choose a direction, create a game, and see how players react.

Additionally, this fast paced process allowed me to really understand why CS147 emphasized creating low cost prototypes. This became most relevant to me during P3, where my group quickly iterated over many very different versions of our game. Fully designing the materials of each iteration just wouldn’t have been possible. Instead, we needed to work with hand drawn pieces and other low cost prototyping techniques so that we didn’t get overly attached to one version which we spent a lot of time polishing. I’m thankful for the early lecture on sketching given by Christina, because it was really useful in iterating quickly through potential visual designs and themes.

With that said, this class is a game about designing serious games, not just normal games. What I found most useful in this regard was the delineation of different types of serious games. This means the three projects we worked on, which focused on teaching, feeling, and understanding as the three types of serious games. I’ll admit that I sometimes thought of serious games as being rather dull, such as those adding games kids played in elementary school. This class taught me that this preconception was false, and that games can be serious while also being very fun. For example, I never thought of something like Pandemic as a serious game, but it is actually helping players understand how the spread of diseases works while still being very entertaining. Focusing on both helping players have fun while also trying to convey something, whether a lesson or a moral, made me realize not just the fact that such a task was possible, but also how many games around me are secretly serious games.

Finally, I would be guilty of severe omission if I didn’t mention the teamwork skills this class taught me. As one of the first project and teamwork focused class I’ve taken at Stanford, I learned a lot of soft skills in addition to the hard skills that the class was built to teach. As you already know, my groups ran into quite a few issues. I learned the importance of good documentation to make passing over work smooth. Additionally, I learned to be adaptive, working with the materials that I have, such as the skills sets in each team, to make the best project I can rather than fixating on making a perfect project. I think these skills will be incredibly useful for me in the future, as admittedly it’s soft skills like these that I tend to struggle with the most.

This class has probably been my favorite I’ve taken at Stanford so far. In part, this is because it’s the first truly elective course I’ve been able to take that relates to my chosen major and career path. But, mostly, it’s because I was able to come out of the class with not just new knowledge but also something to show for my efforts. I’m truly proud of all three of the games I made in this class, something I can’t say about, for example, my problem sets from CS103. The freedom I had in choosing projects allowed me to feel a real sense of ownership and passion for my work, at times putting in many more hours than was necessary for just the deliverables the class required. This freedom for creativity and ownership was my favorite part of this class, and I would encourage other courses to take inspiration from Christina and Amy’s teaching style.

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