Game Design Philosophy

Game Design Philosophy

I love making games – designing their systems and narratives, making art for them, and facilitating the production. I am constantly learning new things with a generalist approach, but my personal interests lie in the creative processes and praxises of game designers and game development teams, in worldbuilding and immersion through art and storytelling, and in creating comprehensible and consistent game systems.

You could say I got into games from a maker perspective, rather than from being a passionate player. There’s power in creation. That moment when I become the pixel on the screen; the moment when an animation goes from a mere drawing to the illusion of life; when a line from an NPC makes me put down the controller in anger; when intricate code in a game engine more, or usually less, successfully mimics physics; the moment where anticipation of a dice throw makes my heart beat faster; that’s where my passion for game development stems from. Creating investment, identification and immersion in players is what I hope to perhaps one day be able to do.

I’m a true technology agnostic; by which I believe that boardgames, TTRPGs, MUDs and mobile games have equal if different potential for highly immersive and engaging stories and gameplay experiences as VR, console and PC games.

Overall, my main interest in the field of game design is narrative design. It’s the field of design that bridges gameplay and story. I’m a classic example of a player who values exploration and immersion. Games in which there is a lot to find in interaction and relations with characters and objects, and in terms of the environment and the world of the game, make my heart soar, and my dream is to one day get to tribute to a game that inspires its fanbase the same way I’ve been inspired by my favourite games.

My background

I’ve been making games for around five or twelve years, depending on how, and what, you count. And like pretty much everyone else who stumbles into this industry, I have my own origin story.

My first touch with game making, apart from drawing up some board games with my sister as kids, was with the indie multiplayer script-based platform BYOND, which I dabbled with as a teenager in ninth grade and beyond. I wasn’t very good at the scripting part, and most games I made were to make my siblings laugh (such as the one in which my brother jumped around in a labyrinth, chased by a teacher at our school), but it did teach me about interactivity, and pixel art tile-based asset creation – but most of all, that even games can be made by mere mortals like me.

During high school I decided to become an art teacher. I started in the Art Education major at Aalto University 2011, and graduated 2019. But, during my studies, I was drawn to new technology, and new teaching methods; digital tools for art creation, video art and film studies, animation, and I event took a course in multimedia – so learning actionscript in Flash – until 2015 when I was dragged to my first Global Game Jam.

Game jamming became a dear hobby and artistic practice for me, and in 2017 I made a game on my own for the first time for a course in art education – The Game Exam Game. The game was really simplistic, and quite bad, but based on my interest in game-based learning I was recruited into the Aalto Drawing research project, in which I worked on creating a game that teaches drawing. After a year of working part-time as a teacher and part-time as a research assistant / gamedev, I decided to apply for the MA programme in New Media – Game Design and Production.

My Gamer Cred

I’m a fairly average gamer. I have gladly sunk some 200 hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition and around 90 into Zelda: Breath of the Wild, probably 500+ into The Sims-franchise and I got to level 32 in RuneScape back in the day, but I play in bursts and I don’t have a favourite genre.  I also like console fighting games like Tekken or Soul Calibur, and party-games like Overcooked, are incredibly fun. And board games are great, too – current favourites are Betrayal at House on the Hill, Dominion, and DnD 5e. I enjoy strategy games and city builders. I adore playing, and working on, story-rich games where interaction with the world is slow and pensive, rather than adrenaline-inducing. I love being met with, and hiding, funny little easter eggs as awards for strange efforts as I discover a mystery in the game, or strange combinations in a crafting tree giving unexpected results. Oh, and I also frigging love space.

All things considered I used to be a terrible player, and I value that empathy for the average player. I used to have no patience to try again, and again, and master combat or controls. And to be fair, I still have a hard time when faced with the potential of falling into holes because my estimation of depth is abysmal (True story – I once got a car stuck because there was a 20cm by 20cm hole on the yard.).

I’m also a not-so secret lover of, arguably, terrible games. Perhaps it’s because all my childhood games came from the bargain bin, and they tended to have weird quirks. Still, these small, strange CD-ROM-games I somehow got my hands on were very important to me. Games such as The Secret of The Nautilus, Rise of Nations, Mysteriet på Greveholm 2: Resan till Planutus and Maxis’ Sim:Park, as well as EA franchise Harry Potter-games 1 and 2 were very important to me. Most games I played until the age of 13 were Swedish learning games such as Matteraketen and BackPacker Junior, or picture book games such as the Moomin-games, Pettson-games and Mulle Meck-games of the early 2000’s. Heck, I played Sim:Ant, because it was interactive. They were an irreplaceable part of my childhood, just like the books many of them were based on.

mediaselfie 2

Playing Rayman with a friend in 1998 (me on right, posing)

I had friends who had consoles. My first console game experience was probably in 1996 or 1997 (aged 4 or 5) of Super Mario World on SNES, but I only remember the dread of being eaten by a piranha plant haunting me for days.
Another friend had a PS1 (later a PS2 as well), and the first time I visited her her dad was playing a game where you scored points for mowing down pedestrians. We, however, played Crash Bandicoot and Spyro – or like usual, she played, I watched.

Game Education Goals – Working for a productive media literacy

Usually when I say I’m an art teacher, people stare at me as if I was going to conjure up crayons and macaroni art from thin air. Like artistic mentality is a contagious disease, guaranteed to make you felt carrots or mix watercolors.

But I’d argue art education today is not about drawing and painting. Sure, those are activities an art educator can see fit as teaching methods, but a contemporary take on the subject, one supported by the new national Finnish curriculum, sees art education’s role in schools as that of visual culture education.

Visual culture education studies both art history, art present, and the ever-changing landscape of personal visual culture. Much of this visual culture is digital, and games, as an audiovisual narrative medium and as a design medium, definitely fall into that category. In this way, game making, game criticism, and game design has a natural home in art education.
Moreover, the new curriculum emphasises cross-disciplinary learning and collaboration. It is my opinion, and belief, that games are a part of both the visual culture of my students, and something worth looking at and producing in the context of art, as well as in the more “traditional” context of STEM-learning. Perhaps we should start having a more multi-disciplinary approach to learning in general?

Game education in Finland could be criticised for teaming up too closely with substance abuse prevention work – for gambling and addiction reasons. The fact that games can be a positive thing is still not quite accepted – and moral panics arise at irregular intervals, though the discussion is moving in that direction. What I would like to work for is game education that not only treats gaming as a medium of entertainment, self-expression and creative problem solving, but also encourages people to try their own hands at game production, and recognises game making as the creative hobby it is – digital craftsmanship. Things are slowly moving in this direction in the field as well, and I look forward to building the creative and inclusive game education of the future.

My MA thesis in Art Education bites into some of these subjects. In it I study game jams in the context of game education. Find out more [here].