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2:11pm on Wednesday, 8th February, 2017:



Every year, I have an exercise for my CE217 students in which I give each of them a wad of A7-sized pieces of paper (which I call "cards", as they would be if I didn't have to make so many of them). The cards all have this written on them: "Something that annoys me as a player of computer games is:". The students then get to write in the things that annoy them.

They spend maybe half an hour doing this (or 15 minutes for the students who rolled up late) (oh, and this assumes that the ones who don't have pens manage to borrow one), then I take all their cards and throw them at a wall to shuffle them. The students then form groups and have to categorise the wad of random cards they get. I also give them some cards from previous years — I have hundreds of these, but I don't use them all. The students spend about an hour on this.

This year, we had five groups. Here is the union of their categories of what annoys players of computer games:
Bad Gameplay
Bad communities
Specific games
Evil developers
Voice acting
Other players
Level of difficulty
Level Design
Subjective rants
Unbalanced gameplay
Intellectual property
Missing features
Release issues
Unintentional consequences

From this list, I and the students construct higher categories (such as Design, or Players, or Production). I missed out the Other category, though, as it's a meta-tag.

There are several reasons I do this exercise.

Firstly, it shows that when you do create higher categories, they all map onto parts of the games industry — even to sub-divisions of game development companies.

Secondly, it means that the students get to think about what annoys they themselves, personally, about games.

Thirdly, it gives them some insight into what other people like and dislike about games (well, dislike, anyway). Every designer should be able to see a game from multiple perspectives, and giving students fifty cards written by people in the room and people who have done this exercise in previous years helps them appreciate this fact.

Fourthly, they have to explain their thoughts to one another, because of the group component of the exercise. This helps themn distance their own subjective views from a more objective view.

Something I've noticed over the years is that there's a correlation between how many cards people write and what their future is in the games industry. This isn't anything to do with why I run the exercise, it's just vaguely interesting. Basically, students who can't think of much to put on their cards are unlikely to have a future in the games industry. This doesn't mean that all the ones who write dozens of cards do have a future, of course, but the ones who do will usually be among that group. This is because they have an imagination. They may also have a decade's worth of pent-up frustration with games that only now can they release in a cathartic explosion of ranting complaints, of course.

Why were almost all the cards with such dreadful handwriting on them that the students asked me to translate them ones that I'd written myself?

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Copyright © 2017 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).