How to Play Video Games like a Developer

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To better understand cinematography, we watch movies. To better understand literature, we read novels and poems. As the case stands, to better understand game design, we play video games.

For my AP Literature class in High School, we had to read How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster during the summer. This book was essential to understanding the mechanics, metaphors, imagery, and any thinkable written expression in literature. I never liked or understood much of what I read when I was young but reading this book was like finally understanding a new language for the first time. You can’t unlearn it and it opens up so many doors. Video games (or Interactive Medium) is still young as an art form but there’s so much to take in and understand from each game. As a developer we need to make the same leap into what makes up an interactive experience.

What is Design?

As a developer, you need to remember that you’re not just making video games, you’re designing an interactive experience. Designing is the process where aesthetic and functionality are created as a cohesive experience. This process undergoes research, analysis, modeling, and redesigning in order to help create a product. Each step of a design holds a lot of weight and direction for your project. How does any of this apply to video games? Video games are constructed very similarly to this design process and this is supported in my previous post, Steps to Making Your Own Video Game. So when you are playing a video game, try to figure out the themes and objectives the designers decided on. This is only the beginning of understanding video games as a developer.

Get a Background

A good and necessary start to understanding video games like a developer is playing a lot of video games. You need to play the best and the worst games, anything under the sun in order to get a wide reference. When playing these games, pay attention to what sticks, what doesn’t work, and outright gets you frustrated. It’s much easier to learn from a bad game because it’s clear to pick out what doesn’t work as opposed to a well-rounded one. Don’t shy away from games out of your comfort zone, you can learn so much from a genre that you’re unfamiliar with. If you’re making a running platformer game, maybe racing games will help you understand time trials and timing mechanics. There’s always something to take away from any game you play, you just need to plug in and go.

Observation, My Dear Watson

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Look at every detail that helps create the immersive environment and learn why it’s there

Every video game runs an event corresponding to each action the player takes. As the player, your actions are determined by the situation you’re in. You could be in a zombie apocalypse and therefore always on edge and very cautious with every action you take. This behavior wouldn’t be reasonable in a party game where you’re having fun with friends. As a developer, this is information you need to take note of while playing.

  • Why did I just make this action?
  • Why do I feel this way?
  • Why did the developers make this experience?

These are just some basic questions you need to be constantly asking yourself when playing video games. It might be hard at first to observe while playing but practice will help get accustomed to this.

Don’t Knock It Until You Try It

As we grow up, we tend to have biases towards what types of games we play. You might like racing games but dislike platformers. Your preference is your own but as a developer you can no longer have one. There are so many games to experience and learn from, you can’t afford to exclude yourself. Video games tackle social, mechanical, and design problems that as developers are valuable information to us and must be explored. Along the way, you might just find a game that changes your opinion on a genre. You’ll never know unless you try it.

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