The Five Myths of Gaming Designers

9 Jul

(originally published in TechCareers Blog)

I remember putting our 5-year-old son, Ben, to bed so his dad and I could practice playing Mario on his Nintendo. While we learned to play better, we still couldn’t beat him.

A few years passed and we watched Ben take televisions in and out of the house. We learned one could hook five TVs up for a “Halo” party. I never attempted to even try to play that one. We became a little concerned when our son became so obsessed with games that he actually moved everything out of his walk-in closet and installed shelves to hold his collection of every gaming system since Atari.

Game by game, though, I wondered just how do these games come to be?

Recently, I came across a blog written by Ria Lu, one of the few women in the gaming industry. She set about to debunk five myths about the gaming profession.

The five myths she outlined are:

(1)  Anyone who can come up with an idea can be a game designer

(2)  Game designers are expert artists

(3)  Game designers don’t need to know programming

(4)  Game designers come up with ideas; everybody else follows

(5)  Game designers play games all day

A game designer fleshes ideas out, forming characters and the rules of the game. Typically, the designer does not come up with the idea. In fact, Lu says, most do not. Communication within the team is important for the designer needs to create the game intended.

If Plants vs. Zombies game designer George Fan hadn’t listened to the composer of the game’s score (Fan’s girlfriend Laura Shigihara), “you’d be paying double what you normally pay for a sunflower, and end up with a lawn that’s predominantly sun-loving plants that can’t defend themselves, much less your brain.”

That’s another part of gaming that baffles me, but I’ll save buying items as a topic for another day.

As for the designer needing to be an artist, Lu says designers just need to be able to draw a circle or a box because they work more with diagrams, mock-ups and maps.

In regards to Myth No. 3, designers do not have to be programmers, Lu says. They do need to be “analytically competent like a programmer to be one.” That last sentence alone would send me running. These myths certainly are setting me straight.

I love the fifth and final myth that gamers simply play games all day. Lu says the best game designers are those who go out and do things, whether it’s hugging trees, running races, or simply observing the world around them.

So what happened to the little boy who grew up playing games? One day, he sold off his collection. Later, we learned his hand-eye coordination developed from his early gaming days made him an excellent candidate for planning war strikes on a computer.

Who knows where gaming can take you?

-Sheila

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