Holistic Game Design: Crafting Memorable Games Through an Experience-First Approach

In the realm of game design, it is common to find designers who think of game design as assembling game mechanics like pieces of a puzzle. What I suggest, instead, is that we start utilizing a holistic approach that prioritizes the player’s experience above all else. Rather than focusing on the purely mechanical perspective, we should embrace the concept of “experience design” to create games that resonate on a deeper level.

This paradigm shift in game design emphasizes a comprehensive view, considering a myriad of factors beyond mechanics and themes. Designers are compelled to ponder the player’s journey from a broader perspective, weaving together elements from above, around, before and after the board or table. These elements combined, converge to craft a truly immersive and enjoyable encounter altogether.

When designing with an experience-first mindset, game designers first delve into considerations like the ideal number of players, the game’s duration, and the level of expertise required. We carefully weigh factors such as setup time and explore various scenarios in which the game might be enjoyed. Is it tailored for a traditional game night, or could it seamlessly integrate into a cozy visit of a restaurant, a lively bar, or a quaint coffee shop? Could players engage in it during a flight, using the limited space of seat trays? What about more unconventional settings like a tent or a car, where unique challenges and opportunities emerge?

Attention to physical characteristics of the experience takes center stage as designers ponder seating arrangements, adaptability to low-light conditions, and the potential impact of language barriers. The consideration of practicalities extends to whether players need both hands to engage or if the game can be enjoyed alongside a meal. Even material considerations such as the smoothness of cards, their size, the weight of game components and even the sound they make when handled, all play into the overarching experience which the game is a mere part of.

The holistic approach to game design doesn’t stop at considering the player’s environment. Rather, it guides the very creation of mechanics. This approach champions Constraint-Driven Design (CDD), a method that illuminates potential obstacles, encouraging designers to anticipate and circumvent challenges. By crafting experiences with intention, designers sidestep the arduous task of patching and repairing mechanics after the fact, streamlining the design process, and fostering a more organic gameplay flow.

The mechanics themselves become the natural offspring of the overarching experience. They harmonize seamlessly, enhancing the intended journey and allowing players to become fully immersed in the game’s world. Every piece of the puzzle fits together neatly with the overall experience. With each turn and interaction, players find themselves captivated by an engrossing experience that transcends mere mechanics, transforming each session into a memorable and rewarding adventure.

In essence, the holistic approach to game design heralds a new era, where mechanics and themes are harmoniously woven into the tapestry of player experience. By prioritizing the holistic encounter above all else, game designers not only create games that resonate deeply with players but also redefine the process of inventing, testing, and tinkering new game elements.

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