It’s my pleasure to introduce a guest columnist this month: Professor Tracy Fullerton of the Interactive Media Division of
the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The program is one of the first game-design curriculums in the nation and is already
producing promising designers and exciting innovations. —Dennis Wixon
USC School of Cinematic Arts | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Play has a tendency to be beautiful.”
Game designers create systems that contain
opportunities for play. As the quote from Johann
Huizinga suggests, play is a beautiful and important part of human culture. Teaching the art of
designing satisfying play is a challenging and
new discipline. The study of game design is still
evolving and as yet is unheralded among the more
“serious” arts such as music, dance, literature, or
theater. However, experimental programs in this
field are being established in some of the most
prestigious universities in the world, and these
programs seek to produce a new breed of designers—not fans or hackers, engineers, or executives,
but artists of play.
As a professor of game design, I take this challenge seriously. My goal is to prepare students not
merely to work in the game industry of today, but
also to be the voices of change and innovation.
Whether it is subject-matter innovation, such as
“serious games” or gameplay innovation, I encourage my students to ask provocative questions
about the nature of games and to set difficult
design challenges for themselves.
I teach a process of design that is adapted from
best practices in usability and design research.
Called “playcentric” design, it involves setting
interesting player-experience goals, building a
rough paper or digital prototype that attempts to
achieve those goals, testing the prototype with
players, evaluating the results and integrating
feedback, and then doing it again.
While iterative processes are widely used for
productivity applications, conventional wisdom
has been that game designers know good design
when they play it and they don’t need anyone
telling them how to design good games. That
attitude is changing as the industry matures;
today’s designers realize that they are expected
to design for players within a broad range of ages,
backgrounds, gender, and skill levels. To do so
designers need to be adept at merging the science
of usability with the art of play. This merger is the
heart of playcentric design.
Back in 1995 I was designing a game for the
launch of the Microsoft Network when I had an
epiphany about user-centered design. I had come
up with the idea for what was, at that time, an
entirely new type of game: a casual online game.
In the mid ’90s the Internet was still only for early
adopters, but with the launch of Windows 95 and
the promise of millions of new potential players
coming online, the plan was to make a suite of
easy-to-learn, fun-to-master, multiplayer games.
To help us make the games accessible to the
nascent Internet audience, Microsoft assigned a
March + April 2008
flOw is a uniquely beautiful PlayStation 3 game that began as a student research project at USC.
The design goals were to create player-controlled difficulty adjustment in a relaxing, casual game style.