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.