Friday, 27 March 2015
A matter of millimetres
I don’t like the term game designer, and I’ll tell you why. But first some definitions.
Here’s one from a book on game theory: “A game is a system governed by rules, in which two or more players are able to adjust a limited set of interacting variables so as to reach an end state in which they can be ranked against a pre-established set of victory conditions.”
What can we say, apart from yikes? Well, driving through London in rush hour qualifies as a game. Solitaire doesn’t – it’s just a problem to be solved. Pinball too. Golf is a competition, but barely counts as a game unless you play it the way Goldfinger did. And the National Lottery isn’t a game unless you believe in God, in which case it is a game but it’s not a fair one.
Gameplay follows from that definition as “the set of strategies that players use to optimize their route through the game system.” Whole books have been written defining gameplay. My shelves are groaning under quite a few of them. (They’re rarely under 500 pages.) Still, I haven’t heard better than Sid Meier’s description of gameplay being “a series of interesting decisions.”
Anyway, what I said before was the theorist’s definition. Here’s mine: “A game is anything that is marketed as ‘a game’.” Game theory is a precisely defined area of analysis in mathematics and economics, but it’s not even close to being the whole thing. Just as plot is only part (and an optional one at that) of what makes a work of fiction, gameplay is just one of the elements that can be used to make a game enjoyable.
And that’s why I don’t like the term game designer. Game designer sounds like some kind of technician. And I have nothing against technicians, let me rush to tell you, but it is not an adequate way to describe something that fundamentally is an art, not a science.
It would be fatuous after all to describe a screenwriter as a “plot designer”. Technical skills are needed in the development of a game concept, and of course many more technical skills are then involved in turning the concept into a product. But the concept itself comes out of artistic inspiration and vision, not design.