Me as a Game Designer; Artistic versus Enjoyable.

Posted: October 8, 2007 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Filip Luszczyk had the following to say on the Forge regarding me as a game designer and my designs:

“The mindset requirement was important, and I can’t tell how well you did in this respect, yet. At one point you had this rush to post feedback requests on another forum (reaching for attention and appreciation, as I see it), and you objected to my initial suggestion just after completing the draft. However, it’s hard not to be enthusiastic about one’s work just after finishing it, and only time will tell whether you detach from this game eventually (or, why exactly you won’t detach). That’s for you to observe, reflect on and draw conclusions from.

Consider, do you care about this game after all, and in what way do you care about it exactly? How did you feel about the feedback, or about me doing the simulation? Did you expect an actual playtest, or do you hope for one in the future? What does the attention you receive mean to you? Actually, you could also consider your reasons for suggesting that the challenge is made in public in the first place (cause, you know, I’m slowly starting to regret it didn’t remain on IM). I think trying to answer this questions might tell you a lot about you as a designer (and although I’m asking these questions, I don’t need to hear the answers, mind you).

One of the things I perceive as a problem in most of your games is that they’re just too much of an outgrowth of your private issues to serve as a tool for entertainment for others. It’s something I’ve been writing about in my Game Chef review of Juiced Rider, I think. You need to ask yourself what are you designing your games for. Do you want them to be played, or do you want them to be experienced as a work of art?

You are regularly personally hurt by the fact that your games don’t receive as much immediate attention and appreciation as you’d wish them to. However, I think you might wish for a different kind of attention and appreciation than one would normally give a game. This means that you’re reaching for something you won’t necessarily receive in the desired quantities. There are people who appreciate your games for being grim and personal, but I think they might not appreciate them as games per se, but rather for your artistic expression.

Still, you approach me as a game designer, presenting your games, asking for opinions, feedback, playtesting and the like. Personally, when it comes to games I’m just not interested in their artistic qualities – I’m interested in their value as an entertainment. This is what I’m looking for in a game, and this is what I can give the game (and by extension, its author) my attention and appreciation for. Whatever else there is to a specific game, it’s of a largely secondary importance (unless it actually comes in the way of enjoying it as a game, in which case it’s simply undesirable). I’d risk a statement that the majority of people you approach with your games are of a rather similar stance. Give me/us a well designed and entertaining game, and you’ll receive all the due appreciation for it – but present your personal artistic expression packaged as a game and you’re reaching to the wrong audience.

So, consider your reasons for pursuing creative activity, decide what kind of attention and appreciation you need, create an appropriate artifact and present it to the right audience. Otherwise, the mismatch will continue to hurt you as it did until now.

As with many types of creative activity, you don’t need to pour yourself into game design. Many people approach creative activity as a craft. For instance it’s not unusual for a writer to create a book, for an illustrator to draw a picture or for a programmer to write a game only to pay the bills. They don’t have to care about the end result – they need to invest in the creative process only to the extent needed to craft the product of their trade. Nevertheless, people will later enjoy the product. Obviously, in case of role-playing games earning decent money is a rather abstract prospect, but that’s not the point. I believe that the majority of people pursuing this particular type of creative activity successfuly does it for reasons primarily different than artistic expression – often just as a passtime, often as a form of entertainment.

Now, I believe that if you are capable to craft a game for reasons different than self-expression and distance yourself from it, you should be able to better measure your expectations and this should be helpful in picking the right form of creative activity and the right audience for its product. I can see no better way to do it than to design something totally meaningless to you, doing as good a job as possible, and then reflect on the experience, what you enjoyed about the creative process and what was problematic.

So, it seems I’ve just answered your yesterday’s question about my opinion of you as a designer in detail, in a way 🙂 I can support your designs, but I can’t support your artistic pursuits or purely private issues.”

Much of the above is true. But here are some wonderings, can’t it be artistic and enjoyable? I suspect the people who like my games for being dark also find dark enjoyable.

Also, I always seek feedback on my work, I guess I seek confirmation that I am indeed an artist, I seek an “in” into artistic community.
It was always important to me to get feedback on my prose, and now it’s important to me to get feedback on my games. Art is there to be appreciated, and I think game creation is an art.
Appreciation of games happens through play, same as appreciation of music happens through listening.

  1. chgriffen says:

    can’t it be artistic and enjoyable?
    I think it can–see Polaris. But that’s really, really hard to do.

  2. “Much of the above is true. But here are some wonderings, can’t it be artistic and enjoyable? I suspect the people who like my games for being dark also find dark enjoyable.”
    Yes, yes. I love Filip for the very valuable feedback he’s given me in the past, but I think that he looks for different things in games then I (and I suspect you) do. I don’t think you should ignore what he’s saying at all, but I don’t think you can accept it as an absolute either (Of course, I don’t think you would and I don’t think he would want you to).
    I have more to say about this, but I’m a little pressed for time. i’ll try to post more tomorrow.

  3. greyorm says:

    I don’t know. Some of Filip’s statements display a kind of attitude I’ve grown to dislike regarding how game design/success is approached by the current design community. To me, his statement, “You are regularly personally hurt by the fact that your games don’t receive as much immediate attention and appreciation as you’d wish them to” is bogus.
    OF COURSE you do! EVERYONE does.
    It’s a completely legitimate reaction to being functionally ignored in a community that exists to help designers design. The fact is that we aren’t broadly successful at actually playing and designing one another’s games as a community. (And pointing out that there is a kind of cliquish popularity contest to be won before your game gets helpful attention and appreciation often nets reactions from outrage to confusion by the community.)
    Currently, there’s a whole lot of luck involved in the process of community-interaction with any given design, and this is in part due to what Filip is saying: “I won’t look at designs I don’t like.”
    Let’s jump tracks for a minute: you don’t join a writer’s workshop and expect that the workshop leaders are only going to pay attention to and help those stories they like best or that fall into their preferred genre. You don’t expect that because that’s a crap workshop. A functional, useful workshop or writers’ group — both of which do exist — is full of people who help you with your writing completely aside from their personal preferences, and if it is running correctly, they don’t play favorites.
    I’m going to scare all the college kids away by saying it, but: participation in the design community needs to be treated more like a job and less like a glamorous social club or coffee klatsch by the members (I know the response is “but it’s a HOBBY”, “but it’s MY FREE TIME”, etc).
    But getting that functional workshop atmosphere means saying, “Ok, time to look at designs I don’t like and see if I can’t help improve them, completely apart from my personal preferences”, and if you can’t do that, don’t participate, don’t be a community member because you aren’t really there furthering the community. (That’s part of why I reject the response above and refer to the attitude as Coffee Klatsch. If it’s a hobby, then don’t participate here: this is a serious design-outreach community in which participation hinges on treating it professionally.)
    Honestly, that is real workshop-based design, and if we’re going to be a community that says it helps designers design games, we need to actually function like that and not make excuses about why we aren’t looking at other games and helping other designers, and how THEY need to change in order for US to look at their stuff.
    Otherwise, you get exactly what we have: a screwed up social dynamic where dedicated designers get pushed aside and ignored by the artsy New York museum crowd who are there to Ooh and Ahh over their latest choice of artiste and nevermind those guys over there who aren’t “interesting”. It isn’t a fucking gallery, folks. But that’s what we have: the gallery scene.
    So, dovetailing back on track, it has nothing to do with you needing to ditch the artistry. It has to do with the community being more active as a design/help community, instead of a kind of hobby-socializing-oh-look-games thing that it is/has become. I mean, “you want appreciation = bad”? Nonsense!
    The root of the Threefold is “There are different categories of games and none of them are inherently better than any other even though they express themselves differently”…so artsy shit? Appreciate it as what it is, not as what one would prefer it be so that you would make the time to deal with it.

    • greyorm says:

      Thus, this whole art vs. enjoyment thing is a red herring of monumental proportions. Some people look at paintings and see art, some people look at paintings and see pictures. That Filip is wandering through the museum and seeing pictures doesn’t mean the art is meaningless or makes the game utilizing it bad or written wrong or not capable of being examined and enjoyed for what it is.
      It may not appeal to a ton of people post-design because its way out there and has too much to do with flowers and thus “I don’t get it” — hello, Nobilis! — but we aren’t talking about post-design, we’re talking about design-stage attention and appreciation by fellow designers, not the market. “I like the colors in this one, so you should focus on those colors,” is not solid advice. It’s personal preference wrapped up to sound like advice.
      The only thing I can see taking away from his statement is that you need to focus on the “enjoyment” side of the design: how do you sell the game aspect to people, and let the artsy portions speak for themselves.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think you’re seeing some things I didn’t really mean in the above text, but whatever, I don’t mind. I’ll clarify one thing, however.
        I’m not suggesting Guy to ditch artistry. What I’m suggesting is to be careful about looking for feedback on artistry among people focused on drawing in the first place. It’s counter-productive, especially if one becomes too emotional about his work and its success. One could just as well come with one’s technical projects to a writing community and wonder why there’s no interest.
        Now, I think there’s a lot of crap in the existing communities. However, I see many people complaining about their various problems, but not many people actually doing anything actively to change how things are. All those heated discussions seem to invariably lead to nothing. Knowing well I’m not able to “save the world” I’m trying as I can to keep myself away from it and avoid complaining non-productively. It’s easy to bitch about things, it’s not so easy to act.
        I just think it’s more practical to examine the situation and consider how to best function in it as it actually is – and not how it possibly ought to be, but probably never will.
        Also, for the record, I think that during my presence on the Forge I’ve been offering people as much feedback as my time allowed. Still, I don’t really feel like I’m receiving a lot myself. Namely, outside some design challenges, basically nobody I gave feedback to answered with any feedback on my current projects. I didn’t get any from Guy in the past year for example, and none from Jake, to name the few.
        But seriously, I’m not complaining about it. It’s not like the feedback would be indispensable – it would simply be helpful and that’s all. I’ve been designing long before I’ve found the community, and even without it I’d still be designing anyway. And it’s not like I’m going to stop providing feedback only because I’m not getting it back. But I’m not going to invest my time and effort into a project I’m not really interested about in the first place. There would be no benefit from it, neither for me nor for the designer himself, probably.
        Still, I think there’s a danger in participating in the community. I’ve experienced it myself, I can see Guy experiencing it, and frankly, think I notice traces of it in your above posts. I see a lot of it all the time whenever I happen to lurk on SG. It’s easy to lose focus on one’s design process itself and start treating it as a pretext to whore for attention. It’s no good, and it doesn’t serve the design once promotion conceals the project itself.

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