So today, while I was out at the local YMCA camp with my school — and the kids were playing all sorts of games that teach the value of cooperation and responsibility and kindness and generosity and all those good school values that make working together so much easier, I had this insight about my work as a designer, and as a designer of design curriculum.
I am a Game Designer. Again.
I last did serious game design back in the 1990s for White Wolf Game Studios, when I worked (briefly) on the Vampire: Middle Ages game series in their World of Darkness. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of Geoff Grabowski and John Chambers, I switched over to the Exalted game system, and later on to the Scion line. I don’t know that I wrote half-a-million words of game books over the years, but I know that I broke several hundred-thousand: Exalted’s second edition, a number of the world books. What I wrote, basically, was a lot of explanation of the societies and cultures of the Age of Sorrows. I always avoided trying to deal with the mechanics of games, though — the statistics and the dice-rolling, the stats for individual characters, and all that sort of thing — because it wasn’t something I understood very well at all. Instead, I was interested in stories, and how stories interacted with the world. And I like to think that was one of my major contributions to Exalted: that these were real people in a real world, albeit a world very different than our own.
Designers, though, play games with the real world. They think to themselves, “wow, I’ve noticed thirty problems with the world… I have the time, energy and resources to fix two of them, maybe. That eliminates these twelve from consideration: they’re too big for me to solve with the time and resources I have. I also need the help and support of other folks to solve these other eleven… That leaves me with nine problems to solve. Of these nine, I don’t have the technical expertise to solve these five. Which leaves me these four. Of these four, one bores the heck out of me. Two are interesting to me personally, but they’re side projects for me, because I can’t get any help. This one, though… it’s interesting to me, it’s interesting to others, my resources can handle it, and I have the right amount of time.”
So, my boss asked me to create two events for middle schoolers this year: a repeat of the New England Design Symposium (NEDS) on April 6 2013 during this school year, and a new event in November 3, 2012 (this year). I’ve been going back and forth with him on the design of these events, and the other day he basically told me that my designs weren’t compelling enough. “People’s school schedules are full,” he said. ”Andrew, if people are going to come to an event, they want to be challenged, they want to be excited, they want to use all their intellectual and emotional brain power, and they want to win.” And although we had some more chit-chat after that, effectively the meeting was over. I’ve taken some notes and written some ideas and made some drawings since then, but really I haven’t had a good sense about what comes next.
Except today, walking back from playing a game of “Atlas!” I had this key insight:
My boss is talking about GAMES. He wants me to make GAMES.
Part of me genuinely doesn’t understand why I failed to realize this for so long. I’ve been kicking myself since about 11:45 this morning, wondering why I couldn’t have seen this in August, or last June. Or why my boss didn’t see it, or my friends and designer colleagues didn’t see it. And frankly, part of me imagined that that portion of my life had closed forever. I mean, I stopped hearing from White Wolf about the same time that Iceland’s economy collapsed briefly back in 2007-08, before their revolution and constitutional convention re-made the country. I figured I wasn’t wanted any more.
But apparently I spoke and thought too soon.
I’m a game designer again. Designing games for kids to play in and at school. Why?
- To teach creativity
- To teach generosity, community, kindness, cooperation.
- To teach sideways thinking and empathic problem-solving
- To save the world.