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Read This: The Problem with “Good Game Design”

“Good design” sometimes doesn’t look much different than exploitation, and many effective works directly clash with traditional ideas of what a good game looks like. Descriptors like “depth” or “immersion” frequently exclude more feminine modes of play, like dress up or socialization games, which can be rewarding in other ways. Or shut out games that intentionally introduce friction to make it intentionally unpleasant to engage with. 

Amr Al-Aaser, “The Problem With Good Game Design”

I pretty much always enjoy Amr Al-Aasar’s writing (and their YouTube channel is full of gems too). This particular short essay discusses something I’ve been caught mumbling under my breath about a few times now, what they terms “prescriptive game criticism”, where folks have already decided what good design is and ask does the game meet these (often supposedly objective, just to make the teeth gnashing worse for me) criteria rather than judging the game on what it is and what it’s trying to achieve.

As you might have gathered I’m not a huge fan of this or any of the ridiculously popular purveyors of it (hello a particular big YouTube channel of doom especially) and this essay gets to the heart of why and the problems that come with subscribing to it as a primary mode of game criticism (and design guidance, to be fair).

There are many games I would have enjoyed more if they were designed differently, but that doesn’t mean they’ve fundamentally failed because of it. 

The Problem With Good Game Design

Obviously, me being me, I’ve fallen into the traps Amr brings up myself on multiple occasions and for a good few years I’d spend my time doing the exact things I’m now incredibly grumpy about. I am, as ever, my own worst enemy on things.

You live and learn though, eh.

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