Posted by: bracehare | December 8, 2011

Game Design class: A retrospective

This entry marks the final assignment for the class for which this blog was created, CSC 126, also known as Game Design and Development.  Whether or not I will continue to write in this blog I do not know.  I have been a fan of blogging since sometime in 2008, when a strange combination of excess testosterone, existential despair, and my manic depressive alcoholic friend’s exuberant fascination with “New Games Journalism” all combined to draw me into writing for my first blog; a blog which in retrospect may end up compelling potential employers to file my resume under “permanently deferred”, but such are the challenges of my life at any rate, so on balance little is lost.  I digress.  This blog may well lose focus and devolve into an eclectic mix of cheeseburger reviews, attack articles against random internet backwaters, and existential analyses of high school required reading material as previous blogs under my authorship have done, but at the very least with this article I can say that for an entire semester I managed to maintain a consistent and semi-professional focus on one well-defined subject, and to somehow avoid writing in a manner compelled entirely (and obviously) by sublimated energies.

I feel like I had a leg up on this class going into it, as I had already had exposure to a wide range of theory on the subject of video games.  For this I can thank the aforementioned scoundrel mentioned above (the one other than me, in this case), as well as the fact of my community involvement in competitive dancing games, which served to draw me into a number of different related cultures.  In particular I must thank, who have offered a consistent sounding board, exposed me to a range of thoughts so wide they frequently exceed the boundaries of coherence, and tolerated my eccentricities without banning me (an impressive feat, statistically speaking, even if it was in this case largely enabled by apathy bordering on nihilism).  I did learn a lot in the course of Game Design class, however.  I learned much about story structure, for instance, which I feel was substantive and entirely novel.  In general I enjoyed the formal theory which I was exposed to, including the issue of how game programming actually handles AI behavior and game behavior behind the scenes.  I think this type of exploration of game design is more analytical in nature, and is therefore something unlikely to be found in the internet game community, even with those Internet New Philosophers of more cultured circles.  The average person with a critical interest in games tends to be coming at them from a literary or artistic background, and in rare cases from a philosophical background, albeit in this case their approach tends to be the watered down and sterile version of continental philosophy that is currently most in vogue in institutions of higher learning.  I like it when math is involved heavily in a perspective.  Its presence signals to me that a perspective is liable to be novel, rather than something I could find espoused commonly amongst any circle of hobbyists.

The other thing I took out of this class; Game Design is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, or at least something vaguely like what this platitude entails is true.  I may just be spoiled given my familiarity with the college context, but absorbing most of the dialog on the subject was the simplest part of the class for me.  If I have to hear about the ludology vs narratology debate again I think I am going to end up forsaking a lot of games discussion altogether.  It is fast becoming a tired red herring of a false dichotomy in my mind, along the same lines of “republic vs democrat”, in which the terms obfuscate infinitely more than they reveal and prohibit more substantive conversation at the same time.  It is one of those dogma’s seemingly produced by the nature of language itself.  I like game design as a subject, but too much of it is instantly obvious to me as philosophy for me to take any one perspective’s claim to hegemony as valid.  My background again is problematic in this regard.  I was raised by the internet, which is about the modern day equivalent of being raised by wolves.  I am like Epicurus in a sense; I have cultivated my intellect outside the context of academia as much as inside of it, and as a consequence I find the rules of it to be stifling and not worth following.  Maybe I’m rambling here.  I am pretty tired honestly.  The gist of what I am trying to say is that formal contexts are only useful to the extent they produce truly formal theories, and not simply to the extent they attempt to imbue formality into plebian debates.  This is not to say I dislike such debates, simply that I prefer them without pretense.  As such I will be returning to my wilderness, the Internet, for most of my future cogitation on this subject, although I may also elect to buy a book or two since I’ve seen that there can actually be unique knowledge to be gleaned from formal sources.

In short, this class taught me that I can be jaded with liberal arts without throwing the baby out with the bathwater (and make no mistake, Game Design is a liberal arts field enabled by science and technology and not the other way around).  That was probably not even remotely the point of the class, and admitting to this all likely says too much about me, but in retrospect that is the primary moral I took out of it.  I think my pretenses at formality are starting to wear down.  It must be the end of the semester.

– Jessica Evans


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