Fear of the Game
I remember the first time that I actually made a non-digital prototype in front of my students and then let them play it. For some reason, it was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience for me. By nature, I’m what could be described as a closed designer. I tend to talk with one or two people during the process of the design, and I’ll playtest with those people until the game is ready for prime time (any by that, I mean functional and playable but not at all done).
In this case, though, I designed it right there on the spot and put it into playtest. I don’t know what they were expecting, and I don’t think they did either. It was a pretty solid turn-based strategy game with some whacked points as can be expected with any first prototype. The design was to prove a point: that you can make a game about anything. I polished it up and dumped it shortly after class because I have other more interesting stuff that I’m working on.
That initial fear I had – about designing in front of someone else – is not uncommon. Being a game designer or an artist in any medium means exposing yourself to the world and letting them give you their feedback, the good, the bad, the ugly.
I’ve recently received a couple emails from people who want to design more than anything, but have this invisible wall between them and their first game. For some, it’s a question of where to start (design a basic race-to-the-end game; it’s the easiest). Others start game after game and never finish. I wonder if some are afraid to design a full game for fear that it will not be good and the results of their greatest passion will unmask them as something less than they hope to be. I don’t mean this in any negative way, either. These people may be seriously good designers. However, by not actually completing something, they avoid critique.
Critique is fun, particularly when your game isn’t released internationally. I’ve made some amusingly bad games and bad design decisions that I can still laugh about years later (mind you, they were fixed before they shipped, so it’s easier to laugh than cry). Game design is sometime the art of being the least wrong, the least imperfect. Even Miyamoto, Meier and Wright get valid critiques. It is these things that we totally screw up that make us better designers, that allow us to learn and that let us welcome the iterative process.