Games, Design & Game Design

Designing Without Knowledge

In Commentary, Game Design, Self-Reflection on July 7, 2011 at 11:06 am

I tweeted something yesterday that seemed to hit a chord.

How did I end up designing all these creepy horror games? I don’t even really like horror stuff. #contradictionsopencreativity

Some responses:

@mforbeck Been in that situation often myself.
@lumpleygames Hey wait, is that how come I can’t seem to design a straight-up horror game?
@balehmanWow, me too. I’m not a fan, but I design like all horror all the time
@Epidiah Back in school, I’d always write my essays from a POV I disagreed with because it was so much easier.
@joshroby My best work and best ideas come from when I’m working with material I don’t have massive (overpowering?) respect for.
@kevinallenjr yeah I prefer playing trad adventure/fighty games, how did I end up neck deep in this hippie crap
@simoncarryer I think sometimes you design a game to fix the problems with the genre.

Some thoughts after the jump.

There’s something powerful about designing in a space that you don’t know very much about. It gives you the freedom to ignore convention and focus on what’s important to you, hopefully for the better. Of course, it means that you maybe (probably) are missing something neat that you would know if you were more of an expert. One really neat aspect of designing as a novice, though, is that you actually create your own gateway into the material through your design, giving you a way to come to it on your own terms.

The idea of dissatisfaction is really key as well. I think it’s pretty well-established that a lot of design (in a wider sense, not just games) comes out of the dissonance between the potential you see in something and it’s actuality. When talking about genre, it gets to be a more nuanced issue. When you’re a big fan of a genre, you’re generally satisfied with it, right? But you probably have issues and quibbles that those outside the genre don’t really understand.

To paint with a broad brush, it seems to me that games that are created by genre enthusiasts tend to attract fellow enthusiasts, and those created by genre outsiders tend to attract the subsection of enthusiasts who are interested in those sub-genre issues that are addressed by the design, but actively repel those enthusiasts who don’t share those quibbles.

What’s your experience been, as producer or consumer, of heavily genre-based work?

  1. I’ve been really loving working on Monsterhearts, which is my Twilight/True Blood/Buffy/Vampire Diaries game.

    I don’t have any emotional investment in the genre. Since starting to work on it, though, I’ve probably watched 10,000 minutes of teen monster drama (Buffy is 6000 minutes total, True Blood is so far 3000 minutes total). I’ve become enthralled by the genre, borderline obsessed with it.

    But I’m still able to deconstruct it and critique it and analyze it without feeling like my whole identity is wrapped up in the endeavor. Working on Monsterhearts isn’t emotionally draining, whereas something more “close to home” or close to my interests is.

  2. I had the same experience with Agon. I always liked the Illiad, but I wasn’t an ancient Greek buff at all. Having that distance made it a lot easier to write the damn thing and actually finish it. It wasn’t my white-whale, gotta-get-it-exactly-right, dream project. It was a thing I liked, and I had something to say, and that was that.

  3. I’m a huge fan of horror and the only games I’ve designed have been horror games. So I dunno!

  4. Joe and John, I had a similar experience with Annalise – I wasn’t emotionally invested in it to where I was worried about getting it “right” or anything. I was more interested in investigating what made Vampire fiction interesting to me personally, than in grappling with the whole genre.


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