Playful Design

As a some final thoughts for this quarter and overall how we’ve come from first week to designing our own ARG modules, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “play” that comes with design and the sorts of creative opportunities that lends itself to.

My original idea of an ARG was from the viewpoint of a player. Coming into this class I had the notion that “playing” and ARG would be fun, new, exciting, but despite the course listing, “design” felt different. “Design” seemed like a cross between writing, brainstorming, building, adding structure, etc. This was irrevocably different from the experience I imagined a player would have, that being the discovery of the world created by the designers. So already I had decided that being a “player” would be better because I would experience the world first-hand and clean, letting the narrative and the mechanics unfold around me as I got sucked into an Alternate Reality. But with the recent endeavor of finishing up the last kinks for the module I’ve been developing with my group mates, I can’t help but think “design” is not all that different at all.

For one, the narrative we wrote didn’t feel as structured as I thought it would. In essence it was more like what I imagine the player experiences is like: we didn’t write narrative so much as we discovered it through shared brainstorming sessions and creative input. As for the mechanics, we let them be informed from the story we had discovered. As things slowly came to take structure, parts being filled in and ironed out, it felt a lot like being a player and letting the world envelop me. The end result though, is different. As a designer, I want to take account of things that would be “fun”, that enable the narrative I want to push forward. Moreover, we make exceptions for symbols and symbolism, for motifs and thematic moments. We imagine ourselves playing the game we are designing, thus the only thing keeping us from actually playing is that veil of creative imagination.

More importantly, with only hours to go before our presentation, I can’t help but think that the choices we made with story and game mechanics result in us “playing our parts” but from the other side so to speak. The end result of this reflection is that design is necessarily playful if we wish the game and story we are writing to feel “alive” and worth discovering. “Design” and “Play” are not wholly separate parts but rather functionally similar approaches with different end goals. In many ways I’ve been playing an ARG myself, the ARG of designing an ARG module that is. And this makes me greatly excited to keep contributing on future projects.

-Cesar

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