Final Reflection Essay

I enrolled in CS377G following my experience in CS247G, motivated by a desire to practice “serious” game design. Although I enjoyed the latter course, I recognized a gap in the impact of the games I created – a board game about farmers stealing chickens and a psychological thriller about a woman discovering that her husband is a robot. These projects, while successful in creating social and atmospheric elements, lacked meaningful education or real-world impact. With a specific aim to address this gap, I entered CS 377G, intending to explore the educational aspects of game design and craft experiences that go beyond mere entertainment.

I found the class structure to be highly effective, offering a well-defined sequence of projects executed at a reasonable pace. P1, in particular, laid a solid foundation for ensuring the games we developed had a tangible impact. I appreciated Christina and Amy’s advice to avoid complex or immeasurable objectives, such as teaching people to feel empathy. Thanks to this advice, while working on our project, Legacies, we were able to quickly identify our topic of interest – women in STEM – and strategically honed in on the learning goals to ensure both teachability and measurability.

P2, A Tale of Two Souls, turned out to be quite a challenge for me mainly because I’m not a fan of writing stories. However, it became a vital learning experience, as it taught me the difficulty of evoking empathy through narrative, especially when trying to tell a story from the perspective of an animal. For P2, I think I bit off more than I could chew – I tried to showcase themes of animal cruelty, oppression, resistance, and revolution simultaneously. Writing passages alone was a daunting task, and it became even more overwhelming as I grappled with intertwining these passages, incorporating player decisions, and creating branching narratives. Despite these challenges, this project taught me a valuable lesson – the importance of crafting a compelling story to emotionally engage players. And I believe this insight extends beyond interactive fictions, as storytelling is an inherent element in all games.

In P3, Ca$h or Credit, I discovered my love for system games and the sheer amount of effort required to create one that’s not just educational but also fun and balanced. I appreciated how Christina and Amy introduced us to examples of highly complex system games like Seven Wonders and Spirit Island for us to gain inspiration from. While Ca$h or Credit is nowhere near that level of complexity, I am still proud that we somewhat managed to teach players how the credit score system works by guiding them through a journey of managing personal finances, understanding the factors that contribute to a good credit score, and learning how a good score can lead to a good life.

I really enjoyed the open-ended nature of P4. Personally, I missed the satisfaction of coding applications, so I decided to bring my earlier project, Legacies, into the digital realm. What made it even better was the freedom to create our own rubrics – it was nice not being tied to the same requirements since each game is inherently so different. This flexibility allowed us to have more control over our intentions and get evaluated on how well we achieved them. I also loved that, throughout all the previous projects, we collectively made rubrics as a class! This collaborative approach made the class feel more inclusive.

Throughout the course, I learned a ton about the iterative process, documentation, and playtesting. I’ll admit, as someone who tends to be a bit of a perfectionist, I was initially hesitant about opening up incomplete games for playtests. For instance, with my P2 project, I didn’t feel like sharing it with classmates without a complete story nailed down. However, being pushed to conduct playtests regularly turned out to be very beneficial, as it helped me spot overlooked issues and make necessary pivots before sinking too much time into a particular direction.

I liked that the readings in this class were different from what we had in CS 247G. Some of the readings that stood out to me were the ones discussing writing precise rules and the precision of emotion. Another highlight was playtesting games made by fellow classmates. It was fascinating to see the wide range of topics people explored, and it created a strong sense of community and collaboration within the class. The smaller class size, compared to CS 247G, allowed me to get to know almost everyone in the class, which was a cool aspect of the experience.

CS 377G has been a fun journey, and I definitely came out of the class as a more confident game designer. Looking ahead, I’m eager to create more “serious” games as a hobby. As a CS major in HCI, I’m all about developing user-facing products with positive social impact, and making such games is a perfect way to do so. In particular, I want to design high-quality system games, a preference that I discovered during P3. However, I recognize that in such games, closely modeling a system is just the starting point – the real challenge lies in seamlessly integrating elements like social interaction and expressiveness to ensure player engagement. Additionally, I’ve gained the confidence to transition analog games into their digital format, something I might do again in the future to broaden the reach of my game designs.

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