Game Design ≈ Paleontology

As I continue going through the design process, I’m noticing parallels to something that Stephen King talks about in On Writing.

Stephen describes storytelling/writing as if it were a paleontological dig. The ‘perfect’ story that fits your mental image is before you – right there, just beneath the surface. You just have to excavate it. You have tools to assist you: in writing it’s things like vocabulary and dialogue. But in the end, it’s you who has to exercise judgement, choose the right tools, exhibit patience, and ultimately unearth the final product.

In game design, I’m encountering a similar process. Your tools are mechanics, theme, playtesting, graphics, etc. You have to exercise judgment. You have to be patient. You have to choose the right tools and Design With Intent. What’s particularly fascinating, however, is the art of combining the tools and judgment. Through this process we can carefully extract a design – methodically and carefully revealing the prize beneath the mud and clutter. We can also ignore a productive process and either smash the design by using a jackhammer of forced mechanics, or take so long dusting away with a brush of re-balancing that nothing ever materializes.

Above all, it’s the notion of revealing rather than creating that’s proving powerful. Creating something from nothing implies forced connections and overcoming difficulty through power of will. While perseverance and technical skill are good things, there’s something to be said from the natural flow that comes from discovering and revealing. When’s the last time you finished a game and said “Wow! You can really tell the designer spent a lot of time forcing this mechanic/theme/win condition to work! It’s amazing!”? Obviously never, and you’d never want to. But I would surely love to say “Wow! That game flowed so well – I got completely sucked in and didn’t even notice I was playing a game!”. That’s the beauty and power of uncovering the natural versus forcing your preferences and guesses.

So I’ll be keeping this in mind as I move forward. My goal is not to a series of obstacles. My goal is to present an experience. My goal is to unleash fun.

Author: Adam Levitus

I'm the mastermind and wizard (Order of Merlin, First Class) behind A Bit of Levity. Apart from travelling down the road of board game design, I have also created a greeting card design company (Pithy Diction) and co-founded/exited another greeting card subscription company (Greetfully). I'm from Chicago but now live in California (if that matters) - NorCal specifically (which apparently matters a lot).

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