I watched a video on youtube of a panel at SHUX that included four game designers talking about the game design process. It was a great presentation of interesting and foundational ideas and experiences of these successful and established designers. But one quote by narrative designer Leigh Alexander stood out to me:

“Game Designers need to not play more games but read more books, watch more movies, and do more traveling, and absorb other cultures”

Alexander’s assertion is a good one, and it speaks to an ideal that I have been circling for a while. It seems like a lot of games adhere to a kind of thematic status quo. And while recently we’ve seen more and more games with new and unique themes, it seems like it’s still commonplace for new games to dwell on old tropes, worlds, histories, etc. in their theme.

I once read a comment in a game design forum that said that our industry repeats themes because the mechanics that we use in games don’t change very often. Many popular games are themed after medieval tradesmen, or middle eastern markets, or civilization building of indigenous cultures, etc., because the mechanics that we use fit those themes. New themes means innovative new mechanics, which are hard to produce.

Alexander’s idea is beautiful in that it challenges us as game makers to understand that our perspective and worldview, our experience and our culture, shape our design approach. We are limited to what we understand, and the goal of any creative person should be to expand our boundaries by putting ourselves in the midst of other cultural experiences and expressions. Out of that effort comes a wider, deeper understanding of the human experience and the ways the world works. Only through that wider experience can our creative efforts become more inclusive and expressive. As game designers, this can mean new ideas and new mechanics that fit into fresh and innovative themes. The way out of creative and thematic repackaging is to develop as people, as conscious beings. The only way to get there is to seek out genuine and novel experience, and to see the world through fresh eyes and from a fresh perspective.

That’s a goal I’ve set for myself, to engage with people and ideas and traditions that are different than my own. I want to see the world in a more complete way through plopping myself down in unfamiliar contexts and learning to understand them. Hopefully the result is more interesting game designs, but at the very least, I think I can come away with a more empathetic world view and perspective.

Leigh Alexander on Instagram

The Game Design Process – SHUX Presents: