So I recently got my copy of Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton back from a friend and while I was flipping through it I remembered one of the reasons I bought it and would recommend it to anyone interested in becoming a game designer. Inside she has a lot of little exercises for game designers and one of her suggestions is that you start a game journal. So what better way to improve my game design skills than to do all the exercises once or twice a month and share them with you? So… here it goes.
Exercise 1.1 – Become A Tester
The first exercise is all about your experience as you play a game. It asks you to observe yourself playing a game (videotape yourself maybe?) and make a list about what you’re feeling and doing as you play. Now find a friend and watch them play, write down what they’re doing and how you think they’re feeling. Analyze the similarities and differences between your notes. What can you learn from this?
So I spent about 30 minutes playing Skyrim (yeah I know not long enough but the mage path is freaking hard). The first thing I noticed was that I’d setup my surroundings before I even started playing. I made sure I had a drink ready, my PS3 controller was charged, and that I’d hit the lights to get the best atmosphere and reduce glare on the TV screen. Next I curled up on the couch with one of my dogs beside me and I was ready to go. As far as the controller was concerned there was an occasional button mashing when I was low on health or need to give myself a quick potion. Now as far as I was feeling — it depends on where I was or what I was doing. I don’t like waiting for all the loading screens so I typically take a sip of my drink or pet my dog during that time. When I’m exploring the world I feel a mixture of boredom and excitement. I don’t necessarily like having to discover a location before I can fast travel to it and the amount of wolves that are spawned can be ridiculously repetitive. On the other hand when an arctic bear runs up to me and nearly kills me in a few hits I find myself fixated on the TV screen. Later as I explore a new cave I keep expecting a Dragur to jump out at me around every corner and I was constantly on the lookout for traps. These caves give me the creeps but they’re the best place to find new Shouts so my need for the new ability typically outweighs my hesitance to enter.
Watching Someone Else
Later that day I watched my 70yo grandmother play a game on her ipad. Recently I told her about a Spider Solitare app and she’s been spending hours on it ever since. I notice how she seems totally engrossed in what she’s doing and how easily she navigates around her ipad. I feel I should mention she had a computer back in 1991 when having a personal PC was still a pretty new concept so that probably makes her a more advanced computer use than most. Her hands fly around tapping the screen and making swiping gestures pretty frequently. Her expression is pretty calm but every once in a while she sighs or mumbles to herself when she thinks she’s out of moves or can’t find a good move to make. Every once in a while she looks up from her game and converses with me or my mother also sitting in our family room. Overall she appears to be enjoying herself and is completely appears focused on the task at hand.
Both me and my grandmother enjoyed our time playing games and we played the game with relative ease. In addition we both felt moments of frustration or expressed an emotional response to the game we were playing. We both used a mixture of physical action (me with my controller, her touching her ipad) to interface with the game. Both of us were focused on what we were doing and both of us had momentary lapses in our focus — me petting my dog during loading screens and she pausing her gameplay to join into our conversation..
I purposefully picked two extremes for this exercise. I’m from a younger generation of computer use and she is not. My interactions with Skyrim were done with a controller and hers were gestures made on her ipad screen. To state the obvious, we were playing two completely different games. While I setup my environment before starting to play my grandmother simply sat down where she was and started playing as and where she was.
This exercise is really an observation of our physical/emotional responses and interactions with games. Despite the obvious differences between myself and my grandmother we shared more similarities than differences. Despite our frustrations we play and continue to play because we love the challenge and emotional response these games evoke in us because playing games is fun.