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Why should anyone be a game designer?
by Jay Bedeau on 10/07/12 02:09:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Why should anyone be a game designer?

Some have the pushy parents who don't understand, some have been patronised by other professionals, some have thrown the newspaper as it denigrates the medium. Whether you have experienced one or all of these things, games don't always get the respect and praise they deserve by everyone.

As an indie developer, cutting his teeth on Blitz Basic at the age of 11, my marriage to the medium has been a long one. I've had to stand up for my choice to choose this artform and why it worthy of my time and effort.

How things are changing.

As the industry gains respect from the public and press, I think now, we can let our guard down slightly. Now I find myself rarely needing to defend my choice of occupation. The world is beginning to see just what it is games can achieve.

Nevertheless, why should anyone become a game designer? We often hear that we are storytellers, entertainers, some debate wages over whether we are artists, designers or engineers.

I don't believe we are just storytellers. I feel we are more. So, I have listed the three research-backed reasons why game developers are important:

1. Games marry art and science

No one really knows where games are headed. What we do know is that they require logic and agents to function; the realm of the game developer. These systems and logic incorporate physics, logic, in addition to the behaviour of agents; the latter is psychology and social science.

From wooden effigies centuries ago, to augmented reality -- it will be continue to be game artists who exploit cutting edge tech and transform them to realise our imagination and deliver captivating experiences for the consumer.

2. Games can change and rehabillitate people

Games can very easily put is in an empathic state by being in someone elses shoes in a simple, easy but effective way.

Play strengthens bonds between you and the people you are playing with. This is a powerful agent of change, the estranged and lonely members of society can feel part of a community and wider society through the games they play.

Additionally, the impulse to complete an activity successfully with no real-life consequences for failure; the ability to try (with encouragement and feedback) until victory is achieved is an incredibly powerful factor to motivate people which delivers a natural rush called fiero. When applied to occupational therapy the results can be transforming.

3. Games can help us learn and play is instinctive

Play is a natural instinct which can prepare us for future events and also enables us to experiment to create tactics and strategies As game developers we are enabling an outlet of play.

Via serious games people are able to approach learning kinaesthetically (through practice) as opposed to simple sight and sound - as we are seeing already, the applications for this are incredibly vast.

The obvious

Just do what you love.

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Michael O'Hair
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"No one really knows where games are headed" in terms of what platform (social, home console, PC) will be the dominant one in the coming years, but many developers have stated fairly clear ideas of where they want to take games, and how to differentiate them from other media such as film or enhance interactivity or pose questions about the human condition. There could be multiple destinations as to where games are headed; in the future there could be entire new genres like philosophical games and psychological puzzle games.

20 years ago it was in vogue to want to "design" games, to think up all the weird things a game could be made out of. Drawing Super Mario Bros. levels on notebook paper, and dreaming of how cool it to be able to build something you and others could enjoy, for example. What was wrong with programming games? Making the art and crafting the appearance and theme of games? Making music for games? Later, it seemed like the people who "came up with the ideas" were doing less overall than those building the worlds they envisioned. Ideas, after all, were the easy part.

Why could anyone want to make games when they could build worlds?

Jay Bedeau
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Totally agree with you about the ideas for the industry going forward Michael. I must say that we *do* have lots of ideas where games are headed; albeit what will dominate - as you said - we don't know.

"Why could anyone want to make games when they could build worlds? " , I think it's really down to preference. In some ways you're asking the big question ('why should anyone be a game designer') in a different way.
A world in itself can indeed be a playground, worlds can be fun places just look at second life and Playstation Home.

On the other hand a game - as you know - is a form of play which can be mastered. That last crucial bit, mastery, sets the two apart and it is what enables the learning element of games. I agree to some extent that "ideas, after all, were the easy part" of game dev, but like any art form good ideas can take time. Just ask Nintendo. Even solo programmers have to design games, or they would be awful. You can't skip the design process, it's inherent. Do game designers get too much credit? Absolutely. I think as an industry this is awful, game authorship is wrong.
Dev teams are portrayed like music bands with a lead singer when they're more like a football squad with a team and a captain. That's how the public should look at it. Japan - despite all the slander it gets on the internet - is very good at giving praise to each department lead, look at the former Squaresoft staff: Sakaguchi, Nomura, Kitase, Uematsu, all had their different roles with their hardcore fans respectively.

Games advocate experimentation; trial and error. As game designers we exploit this for immersion, expression and tactical thinking during play. That's why good ideas shine through so much they elevate the play beyond "press key to perform action" into something more. That's my view anyway.

Final point. Are game designers doing less than the rest of the team? I don't know, in my studio I handle huge amounts of design from UI to items, to characters and effects, to animation keyframes and liasing with the lead of each area making sure the vision never wavers. An understanding of every area such that you are given respect by your team and they feel your direction has weight behind it. That - to me - is what design is about: vision. Maybe there are some designers sitting on their backsides watching their minions do hard labour but not me. I think that will only come back to hurt their project...