Friday, November 13, 2020

Teaching Game Design with Player Practices: A Blog Letter to Chris Bateman

The following is a blog letter to Chris Bateman, in response to his "Write to Me" post on October 27. We had a brief email exchange, based on which I have moved the question here.

I heartily enjoyed reading your three-part serial on game dissonance on the International Hobo blog [1, 2, 3]. Your theory of Player Practices is intriguing, and it certainly is appealing in that it bridges gaps left by systems-focused or story-focused approaches.

My question for you is a practical one: what would it look like to teach an introduction to game design using player practices as the frame?

For background, I teach an introduction to game design course that is terminal and elective: it is not a prerequisite to any other course, nor is it a formal part of a games-related curriculum. Although the course is hosted in a Computer Science department, the course involves no programming—a point that sometimes surprises students who enroll! Instead, we focus on analog games, which means anyone with markers, dice, and a deck of cards can be productive. My emphasis in the course is in helping students learn the value of rapid iteration and player-centered philosophy. That is, they should move quickly from idea to testable prototype, and they should evaluate their games with real players. Incidentally, this is something that is of special value to the Computer Science majors and minors who take the course since it brings a People focus in a curriculum that overwhelmingly emphasizes Things.

How might you bring Player Practices to bear in such a course? My thoughts turn, for example, to how I have had students pitch their final projects. Usually I have them write a one-page concept document in Tim Ryan's format. This format includes a Background, in which I expect them to cite how their work is inspired by or based on other ideas they have seen; clearly, Player Practices may be applicable here. I also have them write a second-person narrative describing the player's experience playing the game. I have touched upon a peculiar phenomenon in a few other blog posts, but I don't think I ever devoted one post to it; namely, that almost all of the students struggle with writing about the player's experience and instead write about the character's experience. This seems to happen regardless of the amount of frontloading I do to explain the difference. It struck me as I was preparing to write this letter that, I think, this is a case where player practices may provide a language to help the students.

Thanks for your willingness to share your thoughts on the matter. I am always revising my courses, and I look forward to considering how your perspective on Player Practices may be incorporated.


UPDATE: Here is Chris' thoughtful response.

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