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i’d come to a personal level of success in the game industry. it was the level of success where i was, in the words of tom bissell, “making a living while doing a good thing.” even so, i was still more interested in making a dent in the world than in going a few more weeks without making a $60 video game.
the gdc interactive session on game design that i attended was led by two people: ben schiller, a veteran designer and artist on the command & conquer series of strategy games, and becky chambers, a best-selling author and game designer. for both of them, being a female game designer was a career. for chambers, it had been a career for years. for schiller, it was an increasingly interesting-sounding career.
in particular, he emphasized the importance of thinking deeply about the experience of the player. “i want to make sure that when someone is playing the game, they’re having a great time,” he said. “that’s what i care about. and that’s not the same as making sure that they’re having a good time, or make sure that they like the game. i want to be sure that they have a great time, because it’s important. i think it’s important to the experience of being a player.”
this design philosophy is, by its own admission, a hard one to make work for everyone. even though schiller specifically said he wanted to make sure that people have a great time, it’s obviously unreasonable to expect that everyone will have a great time when playing a game. schiller said that he was designing command & conquer 4 and tiberium for a reason. they’re not exactly games to play for fun. they’re hard, and they’re pretty frustrating.
a further plus of the session was that it allowed the organizers to get outside their usual small circle of industry friends, and present a wide swath of opinions, discussing the complex and nuanced problems with the industry, and generating much more useful debate about them, than the issue could have hosted on its own. the panel of women game developers was particularly interesting, and the discussion it generated centered around the issue of how the industry itself can benefit from having more women, and less men, working in it.
the other thing i really enjoyed about the keynote was the discussion it generated about some of the less-discussed issues in the gaming world, issues that aren’t always discussed as much. one of the panelists, penny arcade’s jerry holkins, touched on the issue of lost planet 2 being pulled from sale due to a single bad word in a website comment, and the idea that it’s only now that it’s become an issue that it might have been more acceptable to have that kind of thing in the game, in the first place. it’s an issue that was largely absent from the discussion of john romero’s wives on friday, but it was brought up a couple of times during the panel, and discussed a bit by moderator evie dellinger, who has worked in the industry for a while and is a game producer herself.
another issue that the panel discussed was the possibility that the industry could actually be hurt by the gender divide, and that the industry could actually be doing more to encourage and support the women who do work in it. the two most outspoken panelists on the subject, kaitlin hamilton, and evie dellinger, both have worked on popular games and on press.