I’m a great believer that a certain amount of wandering obsession is a valuable as a game designer. Many of the designers I know and admire have a remarkable capacity to be astounded and delighted by discovery, and are uncaring what that discovery might be. Game design detractors like to call us masters of none, but I much prefer the idea of being a student of everything. The world is large but my head is small, and I like it that way very much.
However, oddly enough, I’ve always been unsatisfied by the readings available on game design. Too often it feels like we’re playing at academics when our chosen profession is closer to a craft, uncovering through experimentation and experience. Plotted down in a textbook, game design feels too algorithmic; creating a fallacy that plugging in variables gives you enjoyable games emerging out the other end.
To that end, I flit from subject to subject, reading all I can from various fields in something that feels more akin to mining. I search around for veins of interesting subjects and then mine out everything I can find of value to games. Fortunately for me as an instructor, there’s a tremendous amount to be uncovered and applied. More fortunately still, the act of sharing is as enjoyable as the discovery itself.
For example, a recent literary obsession of mine is the work of Oliver Sacks. His books, such as The Man That Mistook His Wife For A Hat are largely case histories of people with neurological disorders related to perception, but they’re told with an astounding compassion and literary ability. Anyone interested in game design should be a student of perception, if only briefly.
After all, what questions should we ask ourselves when observing players? How are decisions made? How does perception affect these decisions? What sort of decisions do people tend to make in the absence of useful information? These are game design questions as much as they are medical ones and Oliver Sacks’ books provide wonderful insight into the answers, which well-recommends them to anyone interested in design.
Chris Mitchell teaches Pre-Production, Game Theory and Game Design