: New: Jotting Notes on Fundamentals of IRL Game Design

It's a seminar by @jettstein. (You think I'm typoing "GC summit talk by Bob Schaffer" really badly, but no: instead of watching a GC Summit video today, I did something else.) I attended Fundamentals of IRL Game Design where "IRL" is short for "Pervasive." Our instructor is a game designer and gamerunner for The Go Game. No, the Go Game's ways are not much like our ways; but that just means there was stuff to learn, right?

Of course, there's a lot of material I wouldn't use. E.g., she thinks a lot about incentives; if you offer wondrous prizes, you can motivate people to play who normally would slouch away. I think that BANG's negative incentive system (if you win, you run a future game or be shunned) works pretty darned well for our purposes. But it helps that our purposes don't involve reaching 1000s of people through a marketing campaign. It depends on what your goals are, see?

So what did I learn that I should follow up on? (Fair warning, this would be a terrible report by which to figure out the core content of the seminar; this is strictly nibbly little bits around the edges. OK?)

Towards the beginning, our instructor asked what we wanted to learn. I was hoping to get ideas for inter-team interactions. That inspired her to tweak some settings for the short snippet of Go Game we played later. This meant that when we played, our teams were able to challenge each other. (Actually, we weren't able to; as near as I can tell, it's only possible for teams to challenge each other if they've both just finished some activity but haven't yet asked for directions to their next activity yet. And when you finish one activity, your instinct isn't to wait around for some other team to finish—you immediately ask for directions to the next. Oh, sorry, is it obvious that I'm obsessing about the UX and flow of LEONic apps, uhm, answer-checker apps, again?)

But here's the thing—would you believe I'd forgotten to have teams interact with each other in a competitive way? I've grown so accustomed to cooperation. (I blame Snout-and-Drunken-Spiderish-everyone-Voltron-together-to-fight-the-big-bad endings for clouding my thinking.) But of course teams can still help each other to have fun even if they think that they're tearing each other down. Maybe. Competition is tricky when there are [inter]national champions running around in the same league as folks like me.

I learned that good game design is tough. I guess I already knew that. Towards the end, I grouped together with some fellow students to design a game based on a client's goals which had been handed to us. We never came up with a core mechanic; just kept piling on more ideas for bonuses. (That's not quite true; between us, we came up with a few ideas for core mechanics, uhm... I guess we each came up with one, none of which won other folks over. Yay, brainstorming.) Game designers have a tough job. Guess I'll stick to the mechanic "knock down one puzzle to face another."

Game design for clients must be extra-tough. When our instructor asked for questions, we students would ask variations on "I'm working on something like this. How would you inject fun into it?" But of course, a good designer has a goal in mind. There are many approaches to take; to decide between them, you need to know what goal you're aiming for. I asked about inter-team interaction without saying what I hoped to achieve. Other students were similarly muddled. And we'd just spent an hour hearing about things might achieve through proper choices. But we were quick to fall back to old ways of thinking. What must it be like to work with some company HR person who wants a team-building exercise but can't express what kind of fun they want?

If you'll permit another LEONic rant—the answer UI for the Go Game's puzzle-ish activity was multiple choice. That, in turn, determined their answer extraction mechanism, and that constraint, as it turned out, meant that I solved the puzzle in a few seconds, without, y'know, visiting the puzzle's physical location or anything. (Except that the team wanted to go there anyhow, "just in case." They weren't experienced, probably not comfortable reverse-solving the bay area.) Boo on multiple choice! Yay on text entry affordancercized by something like Levenshtein edit distance! Whew. Thank you for indulging this rant.

Am I glad I went? Yeah! I didn't learn much I could use, but I hadn't expected to. C'mon, it's a seminar with "Fundamentals" in the name for a topic I've rolled around for a while. I did hear some ideas that I wouldn't have encountered otherwise. Different perspectives are good. And maybe maybe I got a lead on an upcoming puzzlehunt by a fellow student, depending on on, uhm, whether it gets finished before the school term's up I guess.

Tags: puzzle scene instructional design

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