Role of the Game Designer

Tracy Fullerton described the role of the game designer as being “an advocate for players,” (2), a portrayal which I found extremely interesting. It framed the role of a game designer in a way that I had never thought about it before, as I had always viewed the game designer more as an artist, who’s primary role it is to focus on generating and realizing their creative vision through the medium of game. I had always viewed the audience response as a secondary concern. However, I think Fullerton’s player-focused description highlights an important difference between games and most other forms of art: the unique relationship they have with their audience.

While other art forms, such as literature, paintings, sculptures, and movies are created to be viewed in various ways, such as through reading, observing, or watching, games are created to be played, and thus interact with their audience in a way that is different from most other art forms. Art that is created to be viewed has a complete existence outside of its audience—a movie exists as an art piece in its entirety even when it is not being viewed. Being viewed by an audience member does not change or add anything to the movie; it might change the audience member, but it does not change the art piece. A game on the other hand is only completely realized in play. Parts of a game exist outside play, such as rule structures, characters and other narrative elements, and any physical pierces like a board or cards, but due to the participatory nature of games, it is only through interaction with players that they are brought into existence in their entirety. I think this is particularly true of ARGs, which often do not even have rules and structures that exist outside of game play. Though they usually have developed characters and narrative elements, which are usually aspects of games that exist outside of play, because of the way ARGs evolve their narratives through interactions with players, building them as the game is played based on player responses, I think even the narrative elements of an ARG aren’t complete when separated from the element of player interaction. Thus, Fullerton’s player-focused view of the game designer fits into this idea, and as such, makes a lot of sense to me as an approach to game design.

Fullerton’s definition of the role of the game designer as an “advocate of the player” (2) also immediately made me think about another aspect of game design that I hadn’t thought a lot about before participating in an ARG as a player: making sure that the structure and narrative of a game keep players safe, both physically and emotionally, throughout gameplay. To me, it seems like this is one of the most important elements of a game designer’s role. During gameplay, particularly that of ARGs as their TINAG aesthetic and their hazy boundaries between the game realm and reality often leads them to be vague in communicating to players the kinds of situations the game will place them in, it can be hard for players to monitor the situations they are in and to ensure that they avoid situations that make them uncomfortable (which is not to say that discomfort is something that should necessarily be avoided in all situations—it can often create a space for growth—but there are certain levels beyond which discomfort is perhaps more detrimental than it is beneficial, and it can be important for people to be able to avoid these). Thus, I think it falls to the game designer to both endeavors to create situations that would not generate such discomfort and to ensure that within the game, there are ways for players to remove themselves and recover in case they do need to do so.

I’m interested in hearing about what you thought about the Fullerton’s description of the role of a game designer, whether it captured what you think of as the role of the game designer or whether you think it excluded elements that are central to your view of the role of the game designer.

6 thoughts on “Role of the Game Designer

  1. Like you, I also really liked Fullerton’s characterization of the designer as advocate. Your discussion of safety, too, is something that’s really important to me. It reminded me a bit of the article on bleed, which discusses the importance of safety mechanics and debriefing during LARP and role-play games, which could be said to share some similarities with ARGs (though they are of course very different). For those of us who LARPed on Saturday, we saw clear examples of this with safety mechanics being set right at the beginning, preparation for embodying emotions, and debriefing after the session. To me, this was a clear example of advocating for the player. Not only is the designer responsible for creating the skeleton of the game – which players will help put together – but they also should attend to safety. Another area where this especially comes into play is within games about relationships and, more recently, BDSM scenes. As I go into my own research this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about safety and the lack of after-care for players after particularly harrowing, upsetting, emotional, or disturbing gameplay. If games are to speak on really serious, emotional issues, I wonder how more aftercare and safety can be implemented as a way to advocate for players while also making it possible for them to experiment and explore.

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  2. I further really appreciated Fullerton’s understanding of the designer as an advocate and the implications of such a suggestion. This seems particularly essential to gameplay in which a designer may be interested in utilizing embedded design — for if the player were to experience a game intended to evoke transformative learning, the repercussions could affect both the player’s wellbeing and interaction with the social world as well. I am also interested in further considering how these games can result in safe, constructive, and generative environments in which multiple types of persons or populations could mutually interact and cooperate.

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  3. I also really liked Fullerton’s description of the role of the game designer, and I think the discussion of how to use that role as a player advocate to ensure safety is both an important and a complicated one. In LARPs such as Ask Again Later, there were specific safety mechanisms in place to allow players to remove themselves if they found themselves overwhelmed that I think would probably be successful–however they hinged on allowing players to exit the boundaries of the game, such as stepping out of character and physically moving to the designated “out of character” space. In ARGs that are embedded in real life, however, these boundaries automatically get more blurred, and it becomes harder to designate where the game ends and everything else begins–there is no “out of game” space in an ARG, you cannot step out of character when you are not role playing in the same sense as you would be in a LARP in the first place, and the TINAG aesthetic makes it difficult for designers and characters to help a player find distance in middle of the game without breaking the reality of it. How then might these safety mechanisms translate to an ARG and what might some alternative possibilities be to try and ensure players’ emotional safety?

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  4. I agree with what you have said in this post. I think this also goes with what we have talked about regarding improvisation in ARGs. The gamemakers must maintain this dynamic relationship between themselves and the players. At the same time they need to maintain independence so that they do not become to involved in the game preventing players from truly experiencing it. This relationship makes the game interesting for both the players and the gamemakers. It is also interesting to think about the safety of ARGs. This is because in a lot of way players suspend disbelief in order to accurately play out the game. While suspending disbelief, they also must step out of their comfort zone into more dangerous roles and responsibilities. In doing this, they place trust in the puppetmasters in order to protect them and step in for their own safety when players encounter dangerous circumstances.

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  5. I also found it interesting how Fullerton defines the role of a game designer as being an “advocate for players”. Players must be able to trust the game and the process. I feel as though this especially true for an ARG game where you are using your physical body to participate. Lines become blurred and as a game designer in an ARG it is even more important to make certain things clear to the player without guiding a player too much. As a few people touched on in the comments, safety both physically and emotionally falls into the process of advocating for the player. A player must feel safe in order to give full effort in the game. I also think in some games feeling unsafe is actually a drawing factor as it enhances the alternate reality experience. That is what makes things such as a haunted house or roller coaster so fun. There is an element of danger, but at the end of the day you know that you will be protected and safe. This element can be applied to game design.

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  6. Your post on the role of the game designer as being responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the players made me realize how prevalent this concept is in most games. When I think of ARGs and LARPs, what automatically comes into my head is the idea of games being considered a utopia. People enter a game to escape the real world and enter this alternative reality where they can live vicariously through their character. And in order to maintain this ideal utopian effect upon the characters, the game admins have a responsibility to keep the players safe and away from harm. Which is why there are rules that limit a player’s actions or words, as certain things can cause more harm than good. Without these regulations, the game would be no different from reality, as the player won’t be able to escape the everyday evils of society.

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