The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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10:51am on Monday, 2nd March, 2015:
Learning to design games is like learning a language.
If it's your first language, it's easy.
If it's a second language, it's harder but tractable. At first, you'll still think in your first language — writing novels or screenplays, say — but after a while you'll pick it up. With practice, you'll lose your accent and find yourself speaking like a native. Indeed, because you've had to think about it, you could have a better understanding of the language than do many native speakers.
In both cases, the more you use the language, the more you'll learn and the more fluent you'll become.
Because so few people have game design as their first language (although the numbers are growing), the subject is usually taught in the way a second language is taught. You're given some basic vocabulary — mechanics — to start you off, then some formal grammar so you can put the mechanics together to create gameplay. Because games haven't been studied for as long as language, the grammar isn't well understood; nevertheless, you'll learn how some things go together well and other things go together badly. You'll also learn that there are different dialects for different genres, played by different people.
At the end of all this, you'll have all the skills you need to design games, and if you have an aptitude for it you'll be able to speak game design like a native. So now you're a game designer!
Well no. Now you're a person who designs games, but that doesn't make you a game designer any more than speaking English makes you English. You might design thrilling games that people really want to play; you may win awards and international recognition. It's nevertheless entirely possible that you're not a game designer. It's also entirely possible that some inarticulate kid struggling to implement his or her ideas who can barely string a game design sentence together is a game designer.
This is because how well you speak a language is inconsequential if you have nothing to say in it.
Game designers design games to say something — something that they couldn't say any other way.
Every other person who designs games, no matter how good they are at it, is just that: a person who designs games.
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