25: Messages

25: Messages

Do you think about the message your game and its mechanics will impart on players when they play? How does it influence your designs?



As I worked in publishing, I was used to be attentive to details that could be an issue for the games and the companies. Every element of a game can impart a message on players, whether it is the chosen theme, the illustrations, the represented diversity (or lack of), the words used, the shapes, and even the mechanics. Now that I have a background in behavioural psychology and therapy, I pay an even bigger attention to the implicit messages that are conveyed in my designs. Now I systematically ask myself “What could it mean?”

Doria Roustan

No. I have huge respect for designers/publishers who do promote messages through their games – but it is not a priority for me right now. I am interested first in mechanisms, and secondly in product design. I want to create hugely positive experiences with commercial appeal. The positive social interaction is enough reward – without bringing social commentary into my games. However, I do think hard about the negative consequences of artwork, setting and narrative. I try to be respectful to all people who play my games. I want them to be inclusive.

Adam Porter

I definitely want to get players thinking, to impart something beyond “fun”. Sometimes, the message is what ignites the whole design process! To get the message across in the most engaging way, I design in a thoughtful, intentional manner. I pick game mechanisms that players interact with in order to best convey the message. For example, I often use RPGs for the more powerful and emotion-laden messages because the players experience the game at a more immersive and personal level. Safety and debriefing tools are staples of many RPG communities – this is key for safe and profound reflective learning experiences.

Sen-Foong Lim

Not really; as long as the mechanisms, graphic design and art are true to theme, it still interests me at the point of production and is not offensive or deliberately provocative- then I’m good-to-go. I’m very keen on authenticity and the fine details; things that people might notice (a connection, a joke) and appreciate – it’s the little things that can make the difference.

Tony Boydell

Now that I have a background in behavioural psychology and therapy, I pay an even bigger attention to the implicit messages that are conveyed in my designs. — Doria Roustan

Message is all-important to me, it’s why I believe games can be so powerful: they are like a kind of ideological sandpit, inviting players to experiment and test ideas and actions without real-world fallout. But games with messages can feel horribly wrong, we’ve all played games that are preachy, too-earnest or just clumsy in their delivery. The message cannot be pasted on as an afterthought, it must be expressed through deep integration of mechanics and player choices. This is exceptionally hard to get right and is my go-to excuse for why I haven’t produced anything when asked what I’m working on.

Andrew Sheerin

Yes, I definitely want to have positive messages in our games. So while we have some “mean” elements to our games, they’re not the focus and are often optional. We’re currently experimenting with more unconventional ways for players to interact that is not from the typical selfish perspective, such as take-that mechanics. We also want players to be able to find themselves in games so we take the approach of not having specific characters, but characteristics that hopefully will speak to the players. There are also certain themes and mechanics we’ll just never put into our games.

Sarah Reed

This is why I design games in the first place. I want people to have conversations about a particular topic / message while playing the game and then continue them away from the gaming table. I start with this as the most important constraint when designing a game: to what extent will this experience generate dialogue.

Sam Illingworth

There’s no message.

Bruno Faidutti

But games with messages can feel horribly wrong…The message cannot be pasted on as an afterthought, it must be expressed through deep integration of mechanics and player choices. — Andrew Sheerin

I think it’s super-important to think not only about the experiences that folk will have during your game, but also afterwards. I don’t believe that playing a wargame will automatically make you more violent, but everything we feed into our brains has an effect upon it.

Choices of setting, and treatments of that representation can impart lessons, but so can mechanisms in an abstract sense.

Will people learn to keep trying? To work together? That success is mainly down to chance? That we can effect change? Or that we are powerless?

I worry about this stuff all the time.

Bez Shahriari

In the last few years I have really been thinking about how so many games involve resources like ore and wood, and what that means about what you’re doing as people in a landscape. Folks like Eric Reuss (Spirit Island) and the MIT Game Lab have been drawing attention to how we glorify colonialism in games. I’d like to see that consciousness expanded to environmental destruction, as well.

Both Wingspan and my forthcoming game Mariposas come out of a sense of, “look at this amazing thing in the world.” I do think a natural extension of that appreciation is wanting to protect or engage with something in the real world, although that’s not the primary drive behind why I want to design games about these themes. Mostly I just want to show people a thing that I love.

Elizabeth Hargrave

I never used to think about this until I started working with some ideologically-motivated designers. Now, as soon as there’s theme in my game, I can’t help but think “okay, but what does this game say. How do these mechanisms support that message?

In a few years, I suspect I’ll be consistently starting from the message and designing from there.

Peter C. Hayward

Yes! Both in art and design, how I want the player to feel and what I want them to take away from an experience shape how the game is created and especially how it is honed and finished.

Adrienne Ezell

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