Final Reflection Essay

Before taking Serious Games, I had taken 247G (Design for Play) with Christina in the previous Spring and felt like I had been exposed to an exhaustive body of academic literature about game design theory. After taking this class (which I had some apprehension about just because I wondered how different it would feel), I appreciate how wrong I was, and the opportunities I’ve had to expand my exposure to things like approaches to designing balanced games, and the mechanisms and mindsets through which people learn through play. I think I saw this to some extent in 247G but it’s been very rewarding to explore how design philosophies and methodologies are researched, built and developed.

In that regard, I think another thing about this experience that was encouraging to me was being exposed to a more academic, evidenced-based approach to design which I’ve been somewhat lacking in my time at Stanford. I feel like in other design classes I’ve taken, I’ve been taught existing design frameworks but without an in-depth look at the backing research to fully explore their nuances, strengths and weaknesses. I think having the evidenced based design approach has allowed me to feel a lot more self-assured as a designer, in that I feel like have the requisite information to be intentional and adaptable.

One of the readings that particularly stuck with me was the one on gamification, and the discussion about how external motivations were counterproductive to learning. I felt like I could connect many of my learning experiences to some of these discussions, and shifted my perspective on how things beyond games were designed. In my experience, gamification shows up in a lot of UX/UI designs whether in onboarding or in mechanisms that are intended to encourage use/engagement (e.g. fitness apps and planners and such). I don’t anticipate entering UX/UI down the road, but I am curious to explore how the crux of the messaging in that paper shows up in my future design work.

Before the class, I’m not sure if I had played many games that were designed to teach people something, so I didn’t have many expectations coming in about how hard the design of such games would be. However, it was interesting to see how challenging it was to design the mechanics of all the project (but especially Olympic resistance in P1), to get the players to focus on specific aspects of the game to convey relevant, useful information. Finetuning the mechanics of the game to foster the right dynamics in which players were engaging with the patron gods, and reading about their lore on the card was a very delicate balancing game and in attempting to do that we ended up designing a somewhat complicating game. I wonder what the tradeoffs are when you have such goals. Here it seemed like we were trading game simplicity to increase learning outcomes, but perhaps one could also argue that we didn’t have the right set of mechanics to achieve those goals at the onset. If that is in fact the case, then what is the process by which we design a core set of mechanics to achieve our learning goals, and then build out from there. I think at a meta level, being able to take a step back and look at the larger picture and desired outcomes will be very useful in any design practice.

Through this class, I was also taught necessary lessons in limiting my ambitions, and how to find joy in assignments that don’t initially excite me. I think I struggled with P2 as an assignment because I’m not a fan of interactive fiction and choose your adventure style games. To me the premise is a little frustrating because I’m always thinking about the opportunity cost of each decision, and the experiences that I’m missing out on. I found it even more frustrating when packaged in text form, because it feels like a different type of play that isn’t particularly exciting to me. With that in mind, I fully intended to learn unity, whip out some stylized illustrations and build a game that was like Oxenfree and/or Gone Home. At the same time, I was fully engrossed in the storytelling aspect of the project as writing is something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance to explore because there was never a strong enough driving impetus. Ultimately, I in effect put my life and all my other responsibilities on hold for three weeks, which was heartbreakingly yet unsurprisingly still not enough time, and I had to make tough cuts (i.e. abandoning the art and unity parts) to be able to finish this project on time. Ultimately, I zoned in on one aspect of an unengaging – to me – project (the writing) and blew it out in directions and ways that excited me and motivated me to push through the story. I think going forward in future work – be it game design related or not – that will be a very meaningful framing for projects don’t fully align with my interests: highlight the fun parts and explore those in ways that matter to me. I also aim to take the lessons in world building and story telling and apply them to my Design Masters capstone project exploring the synergy between speculative fiction and design methodology.

While not explicitly in the learning goals for this class, character design, illustration, and crafting were other avenues that I was able to explore and sharpen through this class. For P1 I drew our game characters 3 different times until I developed/learned a new digital painting style that felt promising and exciting to explore beyond the class. It was an interesting learning journey on sourcing inspiration from artwork by illustrators and designers that I admire and adapting a hodgepodge of techniques into my own unique workflow and off-kilter personal style. I also learned how to sew to make game piece bags, mass produce game pieces, and fabricate game boxes. Of all these things, I look forward to taking the illustration workflows and character design skills that I’ve developed and applying them to the digital games I hope to create in the near future with my colleague.


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