Is Game Design…Art?

The sort of game products I want to buy are not pieces of art, they are a product that is solving my problem or fulfilling a desire. A professional game designer is a problem solver. What might those problems be? Here is a representative sample.

  • I want to spend time interacting with my friends and want an interesting way to do that.
  • I don’t have enough time/experience/skill/knowledge to design my own adventure so I want someone else to do it for me.
  • I’ve used all the interesting monsters in the core book. I want some new ones.
  • I want a game that feels like a Frank Frazetta painting.
  • I want to play old school Dungeons and Dragons but the information is hard to access when I am DMing so I need a book that’s layed out and indexed effectively.

I did a poll on my Twitter feed last week. I made the choices all things I want in a published adventure but was curious what poll respondents would consider the most important characteristic. Regardez!

HIGHLY scientific and statistically relevant!

I think if I were to do the poll over again I would replace “production quality” with something like “evocative illustrations.” That might have gotten more votes. I believe that the problems people want a game designer to solve are problems solved with creativity and design skill. They are problems of finding the monster stats when you need them, giving players a hook that is interesting that is going to draw them in, and written in a way that the game master will want to run the game for their players.

There’s a avant garde branch of the Old School Renaissance that I watch and pluck at for good ideas but find nothing there usable whole cloth. The “artpunk” version of the OSR is interesting but, to me, is mostly a design fail. Interesting, evocative, emotionally stimulating for sure and that is all to the good. I want that. Three orcs in a room waiting for adventurers to kill them has gotten a little boring so maybe we can do better than that. However, if I have to pull out my dictionary/thesaurus decipher the purple prose, or if I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with a dungeon map because someone has made “art”, or if a book of monsters is so bizarre and their interactions so abstract that I can’t fit them into my existing campaign…that’s not solving my problems, its creating new ones. It has value but I’d prefer that “easy to use” was a much higher priority.

h/t to sun.yi for inspiring this post.

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