I work in the video game industry. I play video games. (Probably too much.) I enjoy seeing other people have fun with video games. (The brand new family Wii is a great source of fun for the sideline jockeys like me.) I believe that video games have vast potential in storytelling, education, and plain old fun.
Yet, I have a decidedly strong retro streak in me. One of my favorite games of all time is a little tabletop shuffleboard game. (I’ve not played it in years, but so maybe it’s the nostalgia factor speaking, but I love that game.) There’s just something wonderful about a tactile experience in gaming. I love pinball games. I love board games. I love card games. I love volleyball.
There is much that video game designers can learn from other games.
My family has a long standing tradition of playing Rage, and we’ve introduced several other people to it. It’s an awesome party game for “grown ups” who like to have fun but can’t get down and play Candyland. Rook is awesome as well, but I’ve not found many people to play that lately. Magic the Gathering is full of zany ideas and superb game design… and is fun to play, even though I almost never play it any more. My family gave me the Monopoly card game for my birthday, and the Clue card game for Christmas. The Clue one is just as much fun as the board game, and the Monopoly one is worlds better than the board game.
When I designed and prototyped a game, it was a card game. (Though, it isn’t quite like any of those mentioned, owing more to Triple Triad than trick taking.) I still want to publish that game, and make a computer variant of it. Someday.
My wife and I also love Settlers of Catan. We have a variant called Settlers of Canaan, that is just as fun. We got a pirate board game for Christmas that we haven’t tried yet, but are looking forward to.
I appreciate good game design in all formats, even (and especially) looking at how children spontaneously construct games and rules. To me, both the playing and the inevitable study of game design that I do add up to great mental exercise for me. I own Brain Age 1 and 2, largely because I love to keep my mind agile and functioning. (Yes, that could be argued by some, but that’s the way I see it, and this is my blog, so that’s how I present it. Neener neener.) Puzzles of the Mindtrap sort are like mental candy to me.
…maybe that’s why I love Puzzle Pirates so much. It’s certainly why I love digging into game design. I want to learn how and why things work. That’s often as much fun to me as actually playing the game. I can spend hours designing my Tactics opus, having just as much fun as playing Final Fantasy Tactics A2.
I never did get into tabletop gaming, though I’ve studied Battletech. I’m the sort of geek who would love building a landscape and measuring firing ranges, but I just don’t have the time or money to pick it up. Still, I think that the best of those games offer a lot of great design.
So what? Well, this is just me musing, mostly. It’s a peek into what makes me tick, and why I write so much about game design. (And tangentially, why I’m interested in economics and how they work; it’s a grand puzzle that I try to distill into functional rules of thumb to keep my family alive.)
Beyond that, though, I’ve always believed that the best storytellers are “Renaissance men”; those with a wide range of interests and aptitudes. I firmly believe the same thing applies to the best game designers. Any Cro-magnon cube jockey can come up with the latest and greatest lowest common denominator piece of gaming offal. It takes someone unique to come up with something like Shadow of the Colossus or even Puzzle Quest.
I wish the game industry would aim higher and embrace education and the potential of the genre, instead of cashing in on the GTA junkies. The industry as a whole is too insular and inbred, well deserving of the caricature of a bunch of post-adolescent males who never mentally or emotionally advanced past the perverted teenage stage.
Looking to the distilled game design of a solid board game or card game can bring the focus of a designer back to the things that make games fun. Simple and clean design is often the key to giving players a great experience… and to making money. The simple joys of a childlike mind and sense of fun are much more important to capture than the childishness of the latest “Mature” rated game.