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Are your Gaming Goals the Right Ones?

Love Letter cardsI’ve come to a realization. You see, for a long, long time (like, most of my life) I thought that it would be great to get paid to play games. Would there be a better life than being a game reviewer? Just play and play games all day and then jot down some sarcastic notes and rake in the dollars.

Then I realized that there wasn’t much of a market for people who play a game once and then write down how much it sucks. Being a game reviewer, at least a good game reviewer, includes playing the game over and over again even if it does suck. Especially if it sucks.

But by this time I had become enamored with the realization that of how much smarter, better, brighter and generally more of a good guy I was than all other game designers put together. If they’d just listen to me the games would be so much greater than they were now.

I no longer wanted to be a game reviewer (especially not since I had landed a gig as a movie reviewer, which let me go watch movies for free at pre-screenings but didn’t pay anything). I wanted to be a game designer.

Euro coinsBeing a game designer meant having my games published. I wanted to get lots of games published and rake in the dollars.

Except that I didn’t have any games. Nopes, I’d have to actually come up with a game before I could get it published. So I started out making the greatest game since someone sliced cardboard into Puerto Rico tiles.

It sucked.

Yeah, but hey, no omelet without broken eggs. I kept at it. And something happened.

I didn’t realize it at the time. In fact, it’s taken me until now to see it, but at the point where I decided that my goal was to get a game published I started down a path towards something completely different. I started down a path towards being a game designer.

This was maybe eight or nine years ago. I still wanted to play games, and playing games was what took up most of my gaming time. But since I wanted to design games I started looking at game in a different way. Then I started devoting gaming time to jotting down ideas rather than playing. And then to working on those ideas. And reading about how other people worked on their ideas. And, little by little, I transformed from a game player into a game designer.

I realized this a few days ago when I thought back on how I no longer wanted to play games. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to play games (just last night a played a solo game of Nations to complement the not-solo game of Nations I’d played on Monday). But game playing no longer brings me the intensity of enjoyment that designing games does. Playing has become a means to an end – I like to play, but I keep looking at the systems behind the game, how they interact, and why the designer chose to have them interact in such a way. More importantly, if given the choice to play a game and playtest a game I’d choose to playtest 99% of the time (especially if the game is my own – playtesting time is worth its weight in cardboard).

Migrations playtest 1. Materials used: pen, paper.This led me to another realization, the one I was talking about way at the beginning of this post: I don’t care if my games are published. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t want them to be published, I do, but if they were never published I’d still keep designing. My main goal is not to see my name on the box. It would be nice to see it there but it is way, way, more awesome to come up with a game that I love, to follow that trail of thought into the jungle and see if there’s a beauty or a beast at the end. Or if one could take the beast, comb it, put a bow in its beard and transform it into a beauty. My main goal, my main driving force, has become designing. Not publishing, not laurels, not money but the creativity of building something new.

That has made me reevaluate what I’m all about. If I knew that I’d never get published, would I still keep designing? Yes. If I knew that I’d never get any positive reviews, would I still keep designing? Yes. If I knew that I’d only sink money into designs and never get any back, would I still keep designing? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

I’ve read writers who say that they can’t stop writing. If they do their head would explode, their world would implode and they’d quite possibly go mad. I’d always thought that this was hyperbole as I’d never really felt that way about writing even though I wanted to be a writer (correction, I wanted to publish books and get standing ovations and people crying rivers at my funeral – but you see where this is going). Now I know what it means. I couldn’t stop designing if I wanted to, couldn’t stifle the flow of ideas, the drive to test them out. I’d go mad.

If that isn’t what being a game designer means then I don’t know what is.

But I started this post (all right, the title) off by mentioning you, and all I’ve talked about is me. So here goes:

My gaming goals (gawd, doesn’t the guy ever shut up about himself?) used to be to play, play, play and get rich. Then they transformed into get published and get rich. Then they transformed into design and get published and now they’ve crystallized into, simply, design.

That’s what makes me happy.

So my question to you is: do your gaming activities, be it playing, writing about, creating, distributing, teaching or selling games, make you happy? Are they the ones that would make you the most happy?

If not, what could you change them into that would make you happier?

Dreams of Futures Past Book Cover


  • I recently read an interview with Jay Cormier where he said there are three types of game designers: there’s the rock star (wants to be famous), the entertainer (wants to make games that people enjoy), and the artist (wants to make games that they want to make). It sounds like you currently see yourself as an artist. My head tends to be there too, though I want to be an entertainer (and I wouldn’t mind if other people treated me like a rock star as a result).

    Here’s the interview –

    • Filip Wiltgren

      Great link, thanks!

      The interesting part is that quite often I find that I like to design games that don’t hold much interest for me in play, being too simple. But finding that perfect little gem, paring down the game to the very basis of what it is, that’s fun.

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