Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Playtesting as a Catalyst for Evolution
Over a year ago I started attending these things called "Protospiel." These are events organized by board game designers allowing them to playtest their games with other designers as well as with publishers and gamers. This last protospiel was my fifth and I can honestly say that I love them. Every time I attend one it seems there are surprises. There are always games that are very enjoyable and there seems to always be one that is hard for me to bear as it is just bad. But, it is all done in a spirit of camaraderie. I had been thinking of these events as a venue for user-testing and I guess I never really thought much about that until a few weeks ago.
At the last protospiel I took a bunch of photographs. When I returned home I sat with a professor from my research group and showed him some of these photographs. I was a little surprised at some of his comments and it has stirred my mind. One of his comments was that to him these events seemed more like design sessions than user testing. I like that! And I think to a large degree it is true.
Many of these designers come with games that are very rough around the edges. Some even come with only ideas and a bag full of blank cardboard bits, cards, felt tip markers, colored cubes and other raw game making materials. Over the course of one of these 3 day protospiel weekends games are not just tested but created, changed, designed, re-designed, overhauled, and in some cases fine-tuned. These processes can happen at these events in a very collaborative way and in an environment that is friendly and open.
I am a strong believer in "thinking through making." In the process of making, a designer is forced to think about the structure and behavior of the system that they are creating. Changes to a design can happen on the fly throughout the process of making as the designer thinks and re-thinks the design. But, I believe that in the context of playtesting at a protospiel there is more happening. It is not only "thinking through making." Playtesting and all that it encompasses at one of these events can change the way that a designer thinks about designing and designs. I believe that it can change their personal design philosophy. This happens not only as they work on their own designs but also as they playtest other creator's games and discuss concepts, themes and mechanisms.
The evolution of a designers philosophy can happen through the playing of a prototype. Something not just about the discussion over a game but something about experiencing the mechanisms of the game can change the way a designer thinks. Yes there are those "ah-hah" moments but more often it is an almost imperceptible, subtle shift. These subtle shifts accumulate over time and are manifest as a slow evolution of the designers personal philosophy.