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HowTo: Game Design 101

If you want to design a game there are few things to keep in mind.

Game are old, for someone (Huizinga) are the spring from which everything in our culture was originated. You can find board games as old as 8000 years, cards of these times are probably lost, but we have traces of games everywhere.

So remember, when you’re designing a game, both if it is digital or analog, you’re part of a tradition, you’re inserting yourself in an activity that is old as cooking, cropping or tell stories.

The second thing to keep in mind is that you have been already a game designer, and a pretty good one. Games are so crucial in the learning development of humans that we learn how to create games way before reading or math. We learn how to engage others in such activities before the development of language!

And we are pretty good at it as well: everyone is able to remember a game that they used to play when they were child, to explain the rules of this game and to share a variation that they developed based on the space or the other people they had to play with.

Game design is a matter of remembering and listening, and a framework can help with that.

Answer the question “How do you play NAME OF THE GAME?” it’s the first step. While explaining the rules of the game notice this:

  • we usually states the number of players / field of play / role of the players

  • we usually states the goal of the game

  • we usually states the end condition of the game (you win if,… the game is over when…)

  • we usually states rules of the game

  • we sometimes describe the gameplay (what is happening when you play)

These 5 concepts are a framework to talk about games, and we are familiar with this framework since we were little kids learning how to walk and talk.

Settings, Goal, End Condition, Rules and GamePlay

Since we were expert of games, and we loved when everyone had a good experience playing the game, we learned pretty early to adapt and tweak our games in order to get the best experience out of it.

We learned how to see if a game was unbalanced, if it was fair, if it was too long or too short, too frustrating or too easy.

When we design a game as adults though, since the game is our game, - and, as everything artistic, expression of other things that are not related to the object of art itself - we tend to forget to listen and to be open to the changes that our ideas needs in order to create a good experience for our players.

This is when the Feedback loop comes in.
You cannot design a game without testing it out.
You cannot think that your game is good without having someone else that is not you playing it.

You can learn more about feedback and play testing here, just remember that in order to have a good game you need to go though the feedback loop (design, test, ask for feedback, start over) few times.

It’s a painful process, that will test your ability to accept criticism, but if you’re vulnerable enough and open to change your assumption, you will become a great game designer (and a beautiful person as well :slight_smile: ).

Finally, if you’re passionate about definition and theory (you’re not alone), there are a lot of interesting books where you can read what scholars have written about the topic (Huizinga, Caillois (here his categories), Salem and Zimmermann to name a few), but if you want few quick landmark to define the ball game…
a game is

  • separated

  • non productive

  • governed by rules

  • free

Separated means that what is normal inside the game is not necessary normal in the real world, when we play we step into the Magic Circle, a different Space-Time where other rule applies.

Non productive means that usually the game is not work, what you get out of it is a mix of experience, emotions…sometimes parents says things like “you’re wasting your time playing” or professional players says things like “it’s not a game anymore, it’s a job” (the wikipedia definition of a game is “it’s not work” -.-’)

Governed by rules means that without rules, and the people agreeing to these rules, there is no game, and be mindful of not breaking the rules, the consequences can be nefarious!

Free means that everyone that is playing should be able to accept to play freely, and to stop playing freely as well. If you force someone to play (like in the Hunger Games) you’re creating an experience that is more similar to slavery.

So, now that you know that you are already a game designer, why not starting?
Empty your pockets in front of you and design a game with the objects that you found! I’m sure you will have a great time, see you soon game designer!