Friday, March 30, 2007

Dead Game Designers Society

A classroom. The first day of school. Sam, Mike and several other young students, all uniformly dressed uniquely, file in.

Teacher: Hello. Have a seat. Welcome to Game Design 101. No time to waste - open your assigned textbook.

The class sit at the evenly-spaced desks then dutifully retrieve and open their thick textbooks.

Teacher: Sam, is it?

Sam: Yes.

Teacher: Please read. Page one.

Sam flips to the correct page.

Sam: (reading) Central to the issue of game design is the notion of fun. It goes without saying that you, as a prospective game designer, wish to create a game that is fun. What is fun? How do we achieve it in our game designs? (pause) A methodical analysis of the problem of fun points us to techniques we may use to ensure our products deliver this core commodity. Examine, if you will, figure one.

The teacher walks to the whiteboard at the front of the classroom. Mike retrieves his laptop, flipping it into tablet mode. Sam continues.

Sam: Assuming for a moment we take the setting or genre of our game as a constant - say, a routine science-fiction or military shooter, it doesn't matter which - we may then isolate its quantity of fun in the form of a chart. Across the bottom is the axis of playing time, which can also signify the progression of levels. The height of our table forms the axis of playing action, which is a measure of the number of significant interactions the player must execute via the interface in order to progress through the game (a value we can easily isolate through keystroke recording).

The teacher draws a corresponding chart on the whiteboard. Mike duplicates the chart framework on his tablet. Sam reads on.

Sam: We can then shape the volume and density of significant interactions in a rising manner over the game's time axis so as to assure our game is easy at the beginning and then difficult at the end.

The teacher plots a line on the chart, moving in a wiggling manner across it in a gradually upward motion. Mike mimicks the line with his stylus.

Sam: This analytical methodology has been proven to yield the optimal output of fun per unit of time. If we then multiply this quantum by the graphic quality factor (which will be addressed in chapter three) we can go on to interpolate a total appeal quantum for the game. We must however define certain-

Teacher: Okay, Sam.

Sam stops reading. The teacher examines the whiteboard for a moment.

Teacher: Excrement.

The teacher turns to the class. The class looks at him in silence. Mike stops drawing.

Teacher: Excrement! Rubbish. Horse-hockey. Can you think of any other words?

Mike deletes the chart he just drew.

Student: (surprised) You mean, garbage?

Teacher: (points) Exactly!

The teacher moves in among the class and crouches.

Teacher: Students, gather in. Huddle up, huddle up.

The students crowd in around the teacher.

Teacher: (low voice, almost a whisper) I'm gonna tell you a secret. Anyone who knows basic math and can use a calculator can analyze a game design to figure this shit out. This will tell you how much activity the design generates - how well your game will distract the player until he is distracted by the next game with loud graphics and marketing. But it can't tell you one key thing...

Mike: Which is...?

Teacher: Why? Why make the game? And therefore, why play it? Why playing it will make you feel alive! Unless you ask why - and ask that not within the confined context of gaming, but out in the open context of human experience; of a living breathing human being who chooses to devote his time to playing your game as opposed to reading a good book, starting a new business, visiting his relatives, travelling to the Himalayas... or any other healthy thing that contributes to the human race! Unless you ask why, and speak on those terms, you won't have a goddamn clue how to make anything fun. How to make it really compelling.


The teacher stands and walks to the front.

Teacher: Now I want you to rip that page out of your book.

Mike: What?

Teacher: You heard me. Rip it out. In fact, rip out the whole first chapter.

The students meekly begin to tear pages out of their textbooks.

Sam: But I paid fifty dollars for this book!?!

Teacher: How ironic, Sam.

The tearing of pages slowly picks up its pace.

Teacher: Come on, I'm not hearing enough ripping!

Sam starts to tear the pages. He looks at Mike. They smile.

(To be continued...)


Samantha Kalman said...

Apparently I am in for a ride! I hope it's a good one :)

Patrick said...

Good to see the "'fun' does not constitute an entire aesthetic philosophy" idea spreading.