Final Reflection – Brendan McLaughlin

I honestly started this class a little bit skeptical of games because I am aware of their potential to addict players far beyond their own well-being. I still believe this is the case. Having observed through anecdote and through my peers in middle school and high school I do think video game addiction is a serious problem in 2024. However, taking this class made me realize how often I play games in my life and how much of a safely positive role they have in my life. Games are everywhere and in general have remained one of the top sources of social and non-social fun throughout my whole life. In fact, I attribute much of my work ethic, team skills and ambition to my decade of intense passion for basketball— a game that has brought me immeasurable joy and dozens of life lessons. Perhaps not all games are addictive after all. Maybe it’s more about what games you choose.

Coming from more of a UX design and software engineering background, I feel like my main takeaways from this class were more related to designing for creating fun rather than designing video games themselves. I really enjoyed diving straight into the MDA framework which gave me a much better grip on the principles and techniques behind fun creation.

During class projects, I noticed an emerging pattern of how and when each parts of MDA was used by my groups. For both P1 and P2, my group started with a general aesthetic concept where we’d get really excited about the tone and vibe of the game and anchor with with a glob of high-level mechanics and speculations about the dynamics. Then we’d sort of hone in on the mechanics for a while, making decisions that we thought were specific to the aesthetic and concept and evoked the dynamics we roughly discussed beforehand. This part was sort of a Rush Hour (game reference hehe) like process where we’d tweak one mechanic to something we really liked and a few other ones would fall apart so we’d have to adjust those too… until we landed on something coherent. A lot of times the next step is simplifying the mechanics a lot, especially for P1 where it’s important for the users not to be overwhelmed. For P2 we spent probably too much time on developing sprawling narratives which undercut our puzzle/game mechanics quality. In regards to the usage of MDA in a group setting, I want to get better at turning the nozzle for idea generation up and down for my group, primarily to prevent overgeneration of ideas (even good ones sometimes) to prioritize focus and execution of one core simple concept. We did a good job of this in my first project and a worse job in the second project. Another thing that was really interesting settling our bets on which ideas would be well-received by players versus less well received using Playtests. I was sometimes surprised and other times reassured by the outcomes of the playlists.

Another thing that stuck with me was the Plants vs. Zombies Onboarding Design. I learned a ton from seeing how thoughtful they were about the design choices and how extensively they honed the onboarding experience. It really shows the degree of work required to create such an excellent game. I definitely have been looking at ALL onboarding experiences differently (with the eye of a designer) since seeing that.

Overall, this class was a blast and a really memorable learning experience that added a lot of color to my quarter. I’m very thankful to Christina, the TAs and my teammates for the experience!

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