24 January 2010

January Challenge #24:

As I've mentioned before, I read widely, especially in game development topics. I get a chance to sample the wisdom of many different minds in the industry, from the brilliant to the banal, and they all have one thing in common. They're all wrong.

They're not all wrong all the time. None of them are wrong all the time. But none of them are right all the time either.

Who says so? I do. And so do they. Pick any two authorities on any topic, really knowledgeable figures, and compare their works and opinions. If they have both done original work and thinking, points of contention will be found in their respective material.

But who am I to disagree with ten, twenty, and thirty year veterans of the game industry? I'm just some guy with his own opinions, a relative newcomer to the professional side of the field, though I've been playing games more sophisticated than Monopoly for more than 30 years. I have something of an outsider's viewpoint, a grasp of the lingo, and an awareness of the history of the industry, for whatever all that is worth. No, I'm just another voice in the wilderness, but as I've noted before, I won't let that stop me.

And neither should that stop you from having your own opinions on the topic. Only a rank novice student should take as gospel any material they're given to study. Once the general shape of a given discipline begins to take shape in the novice's mind, they need to allow that shape to bend and contort to accept differing opinions and viewpoints. Otherwise, the first position fed to them on a particular point will be treated as immutable fact. When the masters don't agree, the apprentices can't afford to stay in lockstep with any one of them.

As I read from the masters of the craft, experts in game studies, design, programming, production, testing, I hear their words as the voice of wisdom and experience, but certainly not gospel or sacred writ. For example, here's my particular bĂȘte noire among widely held ideas in the profession.

I've heard it said that game developers can't have fun with games anymore. This comes in a variety of flavors. The most common is that once you start to see the patterns in gameplay, the magic is ruined; you can no longer ignore the man behind the curtain.


That's like saying that skilled authors can't read books for enjoyment anymore. I hold the opposite viewpoint. A skilled game developer has a richer understanding of the medium, the ability to understand the interplay of mechanics and dynamics that make up the end experience. The uninitiated may find a painting beautiful and moving, but a fellow artist will marvel at the use of color and texture or appreciate the bold composition of the subject matter.

In my honest opinion, if this experience ruins your enjoyment of games, you're in the wrong field. You don't actually love games, you just want a mostly passive experience in interactive entertainment. You want to look at the painting and say "Pretty."

But what do I know? I am, afterall, by my own thesis, wrong.


  1. There is an immense amount of wisdom in this article that is in no way limited to the gaming industry. I've reread this piece four times now, in the last few hours and had discussions with folks around me on how this applies in politics and nursing (a career field well known for it's propensity to eat its young).

    Two things I want to say, first is, well done. The second is I hope you keep writing after this challenge with your own habits is over. There is a lot of good and interesting thought coming out of it so I am encouraging you to continue.

    Now, if you'll excuse me I have to go and browbeat my wife into taking a few minutes out of World of Warcraft to read this piece..


  2. Kind words. Thank you.

    A lot of this post came out of thinking about the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. As I understand it, the Dreyfus model hit the nursing profession like a tidal wave in the 1970s, resulting in a revolution in the healthcare industry.