Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Designing for yourself

Sorry for the lack of warning on my hiatus. I took off to visit some family in Alabama and didn't think to mention it until I was already there and occupied.

A week before I left, I went on another trip... to my sister's psychiatrist. I have a sister with bipolar disorder. That and all sorts of other stuff (including schizophrenia) runs in the family. This time, I went for me. I've had a number of rather severe difficulties throughout my life. I finally decided that, since I've only gotten better to an extent on my own, I'd go to a shrink and see if a professional could offer any help I didn't already have access to (I already know a good bit of psychology, so there's not a lot I'm not already familiar with in some way).

Sure enough, the psychiatrist confirmed my self-diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (AS), among other things (mostly related). AS is a high-functioning form of autism. The doctor's confirmation prompted me to buy a book on the disorder, which I've been reading up on over the past week. Mostly, AS means I experience emotions in a qualitatively different way than most people and that the social aspects of language have to be intellectually studied and maintained, rather than intuitively learned and accessed. There are many other components -- some peculiar, like a hypersensitivity in one or more of my senses (touch, for certain, but possibly others) -- but the gist is that I experience the world very differently than most people and will always be more of an observer, rather than participant, in society.

Like I said, I had already figured most of this out on my own. Because of my awareness of being extraordinarily unique, I've often worried about the challenges this creates for me as a game designer (if only an armchair designer). Are my aesthetic and practical preferences too unique to assume that there is much cross-over with popular preferences? How do my desires relate to those of others?

Brad McQuaid recently caught a lot of grief over his management of the Sigil team and production of Vanguard. A common criticism was that he stubbornly enforced his own "Vision" of the game without regard for the opinions of others.

While I certainly agree that a good designer must be open to the opinions of others and be critical of his own ideas, it's a mistake to always approach game design as a democratic process.

Most of the great musical and literary masterpieces of history were created by lone composers and writers. Many of those master works were accomplished without any peer input whatsoever. Others were fully created, then only honed into a more refined work through peer review. Artists can perform great deeds on their own, and regularly do. Even in the modern industry of popular music, the hit songs of many bands are written by a lone songwriter.

Please note that this isn't to say collaboration doesn't often have tremendous value. As a songwriter who has participated in bands before, I know how collaborating with another inventor can change one's own style for the better and often result in a wonderful mix of strengths.

The point is that game design is not different in this way. If Beethoven could write parts for dozens of instruments to be combined into a single symphony, a game designer can single-handedly design the many mechanics which combine to form a video game. Like the writer's editor, help in honing the original work can be invaluable. But that part of the process is analytical more than creative. It's alright, and even the most successful route, for one man or woman to be alone in creative control (note that control is different than input).

Is it more than possible than a single person's creative vision can appeal to a massive audience? Of course. We see it all the time.

In my own personal experience, I've noticed that the works of mine (music, fiction, poetry, etc.) that are most popular are works I created for myself -- I am the audience. I created something meant to please myself, and it ended up pleasing lots of people.

And if I'm the freak that psychiatrist and everybody else thinks I am, then odds are you can design for yourself, too. ;)

Forget about demographics. Design for yourself.


  1. I somewhat agree. Personally, I try to take a measured approach, and when I don't its for a non-commercial project.

    You might be interested in trying a chelatory bath of magentic clay, which supposedly draws heavy metal ions out of the body, which supposedly has a link to Autism and Asperger's.

    Then again, you might not want to give up your superpowers.

  2. lol, well, from what I understand, the damage has already been done. Autistic brains are wired funny in the temporal lobes, frontal lobes, and amygdala. It would be fun to have my brain scanned one day, but I'm not paying for it. =)

    Thanks though. I might try the clay bath one day. There seems to be some debate over whether the research of autism and heavy metals really supports a link or not. The crossover of symptoms between mercury poisoning and autism is interesting. And an excess of heavy metals would explain why I'm more magnetic than most people (I can't wear watches, because they stop somewhere between a week and a couple months if I do).

  3. I have bipolar, and it's definitely a challenge; I'm glad you found a good psychiatrist, as that can be difficult sometimes (some of them seem to be quite happy just writing scrips and sending you home these days).

    I think there's a very important middle road between sticking to your vision and that democratic vision. If you want to design your games for a public userbase, you do have to take their comments and concerns into account. However, that doesn't mean being democratic in how you take those concerns into account---as a designer you presumably know things they don't about game design and how your game works, as well as how its pieces will fit together. That said, pretty much the only way to truly improve one's creative works is to listen to others' input at some point. The author/designer is just too close to the creative process to see where there might be flaws.

    The key is to realize that listening to others and taking their concerns into account is NOT the same thing as blindly following others' suggestions. You weigh those suggestions carefully, consider them, and implement them (or not) as you ultimately see fit. The Vanguard folks, from what I've seen, got into trouble because they had blinders on and refused to listen at all.


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