this article brought me back to what feels like an endlessly recurrent thread in 'game design' discourse: formal abstract design tools.
i found this kind of talk very enticing when i was a student. i wanted to 'be a good game designer' and i thought of course the way you get good at something is by learning formal principles and then practicing their application. i remember asking on tigsource for advice on how to design my studies and meeting a lot of hostility. i remember specifically people citing the beatles not knowing music theory, saying that similarly, great games will come from surprising places, will be inexplicable to the academic. people told me just to make games, dang it!
i realize now that i didnt want to be a good game designer. i really did just want to make games. it was a creative impulse that i had rationalized into an academic one because naive creative impulses are difficult and embarrassing to enact, and the academic can be a shelter and a shield.
in the article, 'design' is split into two subtypes: unselfconscious (craft based, with processes handed down, slow to change) and selfconscious (based in principles and understanding, so able to change more easily). this split is defined in discussion of wheels and buildings and bridges, things that are primarily functional in their relationship to society. games are not like these things.
these sorts of aspirational futuristic academic design blogs talk about game development like its a process that needs to be made more efficient and accurate. this piece discusses the churn of 'the industry' in ways that are generally revelatory, but taken holistically the piece implies that we should fix these problems by making game development more predictable, so these companies are more stable.
games really are more like music than they are like buildings. a structurally unsound game does not collapse and kill people. games arent core to the basic survival needs of our species. games arent built out of necessity (except in our perverse economic model) but out of creative impulse.
there is a category of production and distribution whose efficiency, accuracy, and predictability is key to building a good society. those things need rigorous attentive development, so that we can get to the world where more and more people can spend their time making stupid, beautiful bullshit like videogames and music.
theres a lot of talk about the 'future of games' and a lot of people excitedly trying to push it one way or another. the future of games will be the past of games: a new game will come from a surprising place, will resonate with people for hard to explain reasons, and these theorizers will be left trying to formalize and justify it afterwards.
its a good article though, and you should still read it.
October 17, 2021