My New Year’s resolution is to play more games.
I know, I know, New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be about restraint and self-denial. Eating fewer carbs, giving more to charity, making the bed every day, that kind of thing. And I should do all of those things this year too, no doubt. But I’ve decided that playing games is going to be good for me, so it’s the primary thing I’m going to focus on as far as self-improvement goes, and here’s why.
I didn’t come to game design as a lifelong gamer, and I often feel like this leaves me in the minority in the design world. At meetings, I’ll sit and furiously examine my cuticles while people talk about programming in C++ as kids or the hours they spent in college playing Doom, self-conscious about my rather different memories. I’ve always liked games – who doesn’t? – and I certainly played my share of board games as a kid and more than my share of card games as a teenager. I even had a Nintendo back in the day and logged some good hours on Super Mario Brothers 3. But gaming was never a primary extracurricular for me, just one of a dozen or so hobbies that came and went throughout my childhood and adolescence.
I’ve never felt that my non-gamer background holds me back as a designer. I’ve certainly played many more games since I began writing them, but having a good basis in child development and experience in writing for kids has felt equally important in my design work. I’ve been happy to learn from Carla and other collaborators with deep experience in mechanics and conventions particular to games and have kept my eyes and ears open throughout the design process. I’ve read up on the features of different consoles and tablets, watched playtests with interest, asked innumerable questions and over time have picked up a lot about the principles of game design and best practices for designing for kids.
But here’s the thing that designing games has reminded me that I think I forgot somewhere along the way – playing games is just good fun, and I learn something every time I play one. It doesn’t matter much whether a game is analog or digital. I can learn as much from a good round of Bananagrams with my nieces and nephews as I can playing the latest Dora DS title, but I definitely learn from both. I learn more about what I like in games and what I don’t like. I learn more about how instructions matter, when it’s nice to face a more challenging task, that working as a team can change the entire dynamic of a game I’ve previously played alone, how a compelling character voice can make an otherwise okay game great, and any number of things about writing, usability, graphics, and the features of different devices and consoles. Most of the time, I learn things I didn’t even know I was looking to learn.
So I hereby resolve to play more games in 2012, and I don’t mean just tooling around on the Xbox or my iPad. I want to play more card games, and board games, and Words With Friends. I want to play more tennis matches outdoors and have more dance-offs in Just Dance 3 in front of my Wii. I want to do the New York Times crossword puzzle on Sundays with my husband and play through Portal 2 in collaborative mode with Carla and play more Chutes and Ladders with my three year old. I want to remember why games of all kinds are fun and how they can wake us up to things and challenge us in ways that are different than what other media can do.
I’ve already started the new year out right, with a little iPad game called Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. I first learned about it through a post on Slate’s annual year-end gaming club (which I highly recommend for anyone, like me, who is looking for ideas about new games to play). In my next post, I’ll talk about this game a bit more, and why I was so captivated by it, but suffice it to say, it convinced me that I’m going to have a lot of fun keeping my New Year’s resolution this time around.