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  • Why Design Games?

    [01.13.09]
    - Lewis Pulsipher

  • Title box Even if you do well, you won't be famous -- again with a few exceptions. Yes, many people know who Will Wright (discussed in mainstream media from Time magazine and Entertainment Weekly) and CliffyB are (Cliffy Bleszinski was the subject of a lengthy profile article in The New Yorker last year), but mostly, people know designers by their works. How many people who aren't game enthusiast know who Carmack and Romero are? But mention their works -- Doom, Quake -- and they're recognizable.

    A game designer may be the "least unfamous" person among his friends and acquaintances, but he'll never be famous the way an athlete or actor can be.

    So if it's not for money or fame, what is it for? Why design games?

    There's the thrill of making something out of nothing, as an artist does with pen and paper, a composer does with an instrument, a painter does with canvas and a brush. It may not be quite like how a woman feels when she bears a child, but it can be something like it.

    Perhaps you're driven to do it, the way some people are driven to write novels even without an expectation of publication. Perhaps you enjoy being creative and this is your chosen field. Or you may love the thrill of seeing your game on the shelves, or of being asked to sign a copy of your game. It can certainly be a rush.

    When I came back to designing board games as an older person after being away from it for 20 years, I had a realization that designing games was the best way I had to touch a large number of lives, if only through entertainment.

    At Origins Game Fair 2008, as I was sitting at a booth talking to a board game publisher. Then someone walked by, evidently saw my name tag, shook my hand, said something to the effect of, "Britannia is an excellent game. Thank you for getting it back into print," and walked off.

    There's no substitute for that, folks, or for hearing someone say, "I love this game," of something you designed, or having someone tell you they've played your four-to-five-hour game more than five hundred times. Not many people get to experience that.

    You can love game design for many reasons. For me, it is truly fascinating to play your brand new prototype for the first time, not because it will be all that much fun (at this point it probably won't be), but because it's fascinating to see how things work or don't work the way you expected, to see what happens, to puzzle out how to improve it. It's also fascinating to watch the first time other people play and perhaps see how different the game works than when you played it solo.

    Design because you like to design games, and like the "incidents" that happen when you do it. It's rarely a living, but it's cool.

    Dr. Lewis Pulsipher comes from the non-electronic side of game design, and teaches video game design at Fayetteville Technical Community College, NC. His most well-known game, Britannia, was described in an "Armchair General" online review as "one of the great titles in the world of games."

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