Monday, July 6, 2015

Knowing versus Knowing-About

The ideas from my previous post continue to weigh on my mind. Over the weekend I thought quite a bit about knowing people through their designs. It occurred to me that there may be some subtle but important differences between "knowing-about" and "knowing" a designer through their designs.

Part of this stems from a conversation I had with a designer about a year ago. This designer mentioned that when they run playtests for their games it is less about testing whether or not mechanisms work and more an effort to understand the experience that that players have as they play their game. This designer said that "mechanisms" can be tested mathematically but "experience" must be observed during gameplay. I think that this is a very interesting point and it hints at the difference between knowing and knowing-about a designer through their games. In my last post I outlined an example using the games of Stefan Feld. In that example I feel like I explored ideas that reflect more a "knowing-about" than a "knowing" model.


"Knowing-about" seems to me a more quantitative approach. We can study the game as a mathematical model or as a system. For example we can read the rules for a game, analyzing the mechanisms, the system, the theme and on a basic level the components of the game. These characteristics and others can be learned without ever playing the game. This way of studying a game may provide us a way of "knowing-about" the designer.

I propose that the likelihood of being able to "know" the designer through their design increases greatly is we actually play the game with other people (assuming it's not a solo game). An example of this might be a game that includes a bluffing of a hidden information element. These characteristics might be very hard to understand by just reading the rules or studying the game system. But, really I believe that most games have these types of characteristics. This would include a player trying to guess what his competitors might be planning to do on future turns.

I try to teach my students this all the time — the users/players are an integral part of the system. So, understanding the system simply by a study of the rules, the theme or the components does not provide a clear understanding of the complete system. This is in part why the designer I mentioned earlier was so passionate about playtesting. And this is why in part I suspect that "knowing-about" happens through a study of the mechanisms and "knowing" happens more deeply through playing a design. It is only when we very literally include the humans in a study of HCI-D that we are able to even begin to have a deep understanding of a design and by extension the designer.

Testing, observing and analyzing the concepts of a game design through playing the game with other humans exposes the emotions and subtle human-human, human-game and human-game-human interactions that the designer may have intended for the users.

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