Reading Response #6:
to Artful Design • Chapter 6: Game Design

Noah B.
Music 256A


I have never been hugely into videogames. As a kid, my parents were always against having a dedicated videogame system in the home. Videogames were a special treat when I went over to a friend's house, something to indulge in. But, because I didn't have my own system, I never really had any facility with videogame controllers, with the idioms or narrative arc of canonical games, or entirely comfortable with the graphic violence of first-person shooter games. So my friends would compete and play, and I would join in once in a while, or just watch. Still, I managed to develop some relationship with videogames, mostly computer-based. The games that drew me in the most were world-building, slow-paced, or strategy games. The Sims III, Spore (2008), Civilization V, and a brief stint with World of Warcraft, to name a few., and other websites for free games to sneakily pull up when we had laptops in school to learn how to type in 6th grade. There were the days when you still needed physical discs shipped to your house to download the game, and I remember waiting with bated breath for the parcel to arrive, to plug in the shiny disk and finally have access to an entirely new world of pristine graphics, interactions, infinitely more magnetic and addictive than the imagined worlds from reading. The graphics, ideas, and adventures of those games have seeped deep into my childhood consciousness. Even Googling the names and seeing the cover images brings back long-buried memories of slow Sundays and the amount of imaginative time I invested in these fantasy worlds.

As a result of my somewhat repressed relationship to videogames, I found this chapter to be one of the most eye-opening yet in thinking about games more holistically and philosophically. Games were always dismissed in childhood as somehow detrimental – and yet they still managed to have a huge impact on me. The notions of the aesthetics of the game experience, as elucidated in this chapter – sensation, fantasy, discovery, expression, narrative, challenge, fellowship, submission – managed to be impactful and formative in a way I still haven't quite yet unpacked.

Another part of my childhood was instrumental practice – I began the violin at a young age, and the struggle with regular, enjoyable, productive practice has been a constant my entire life. This is "work" in service of "play" – discipline and rigor required to allow for greater freedom and expression later on. This tension in musical practice has always been fascinating to me. Sometimes, it all feels like "work", especially in the classical tradition, with very little room for the spontaneous expression and freedom of "play". Improvisation sometimes feels like entirely "play", but people often neglect the amount of "work" required to develop a complex improvisational practice and awareness. In reality, the two are intimately intertwined. It took me years to learn how to practice, and realize that it's entirely about playing mental games instead of robotic repetition, competing with oneself, pushing the limits, adopting a childlike perspective. This lesson applies to far more than practicing an instrument.