Final Reflection: The Power Games Wield
Games have the power to be used as a tool for social good. That’s the most impactful takeaway I took away from my Designing Serious Games class over the course of this quarter. Games are powerful because of the message they have the potential to convey, the mechanics within the design and the balance between engagement and fun.
Growing up, a lot of the games I played were on Nintendo, Playstation, Playstation 2, 3 etc..(shout out to having an older brother who loved games!), as well as computer games and outdoor games with friends. At the time, I understood that games brought people together but never actually took the time to reflect on how the games were designed and developed to convey messages and values (implicit or explicit). I also never realized how much work went into various pieces that went into designing a game, playtesting that game, iterating and then doing that whole cycle all over again before getting to a final product!
All of these realizations came over the course of this quarter. I had the opportunity to create the following games:
Pandemonium : A board game our team created about misinformation in the news and strategies/resources to distinguish between information and misinformation.
Masked Agendas : An interactive fiction game I developed that highlights power dynamics between nations. It further demonstrates how self interest pervades choices and decisions that nations make.
Awesome Saucers: A board game our team came up with that highlighted privilege disparities in educational systems and the impact of support structures in systems like that.
The process from creating different games from scratch taught me three central things:
The need for playtesting: I playtested all my games multiple times and was able to gain feedback to improve the games with each design iteration. There were several times where our team thought something was an AMAZING idea and then realized after a playtest — that it didn’t quite make sense.
For example, my Interactive Fiction game evolved multiple times. With each iteration, I included more meaningful choices for my players based on feedback from play testers.
The language of game design: Feedback loop? Arcs? Loops? MDAO framework? Over time, I’ve found value in being able to learn the language used in the game design world. I even had the opportunity to teach a workshop to high school students from Menlo Atherton High School. We hosted these students as part of a Cardinal initiative at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. It was an amazing opportunity to break down some of the language we were learning in a way that was accessible to high school students and it was also fun to implement some of the activities we had been exposed to in class! (Thanks Christina and Ben!)
The importance of a rulebook for new players: In our board games, we constantly iterated upon our rulebook. It was a struggle to find the balance between simplicity and providing as many answers to questions we anticipated. Through playtesting, we were able to fine tune the rulebook over time. However, it taught me never again to underestimate the power of a clear, simple yet comprehensive rule book.
In all the games I created/helped to create, there was a sweet satisfaction of bringing an idea on a whiteboard into life. I’ve grown in my understanding of games and I’ve also become more interested in its power to model systems for social good.
In terms of the next steps, I’m going to take away the tools I’ve learnt from this class and apply it to curriculums, design processes and learning experiences. I’ll also never look at a board game/ video game the same way again. I’ll always be thinking about questions like:
What values are at play? What message did the designers intend to convey? Ooh love the mechanic here…? Mm..how could they have designed it differently :)
I’m excited for the future of game design and more than that, I’m excited to be included in that future; and will work to make space for others to be included as well. There’s room for more awesome saucers.
Finally, shoutout to the fellow teammates I had the opportunity to work with! In them, I learnt the value of attention to detail, creative storytelling and a passion for game design.