I really will get back to that crafting series eventually! I keep getting distracted. =P
The other day, Daniel Cook wrote an article for Gamasutra that just didn't hit home with me.
It's good that people are trying to understand why some game features are successful and others are not. But mostly, this article reminded me of an old presentation by Will Wright and Brian Eno on generative systems (the video's long, but awesome).
One of the things Eno discusses, as I recall, is an academic project that attempted to quantify musical aesthetics and find a scientific formula for making a "hit" song. Predictably, the project failed miserably.
Game design does involve a lot of methodical, analytical reasoning. But it's also an art, requiring an intuitive understanding of aesthetics and the human soul (or psyche, if you prefer).
It's not that our personalities don't also break down into some sort of logic. I believe they do. But there is so much depth and complexity involved that intuition (selective filtering of data into manageable portions) is absolutely necessary.
There's also something to be said for seeing beyond the matrix. If human beings were intelligent enough, we could see the world's countless relationships between objects in a purely numerical fashion. And there's beauty in the numbers. But there's also beauty beyond the numbers.
I could spout off countless reasons why a particular flower is beautiful... like its symmetry of structures and colors, its meaningful imperfections, the processes that keep it alive and make it grow, its defenses against insects or its means of attracting pollinating animals, etc. But no matter how many persons and generations of people study that same type of flower, no matter how much knowledge and technology we accumulate, there will always be something about that flower that we just can't put a finger on.
It's like trying to compare the intellect with emotions. Certainly, the two overlap to some extent, but they're not one and the same. Nail down one and the other may still dance out of reach.
Part of game design is knowing that calculations alone are insufficient. You've got to listen to the voice inside and watch the gleam in your fellow gamer's eye to get the full picture.