Last weekend I participated in (and assisted in the wrangling of) a small experimental game jam focused on games for classroom learning. I’ve always recognized educational games from afar as something challenging and impressive, but this was my first time dabbling in it myself, with 0 experience making an educational game. I learned SO much about educational game design and the shortcomings of my own design intuition in this context, even from one small weekend prototype. It was incredibly valuable!
On one of my recent “class” streams, a conversation evolved about how the flaws of games can give them character. It really started out as looking streamlining between generations of genres. In our case we were playing Borderlands 2, and I was observing how a lot of tropes of that generation were present in Destiny as a more modern “rpg-shooter” hybrid, but had been hyper streamlined. Some of the older conventions of the late PS3/XBox 360 era of shooters now felt a little clunky – things like waiting on NPC positioning for events to occur, the “turn-in” experience, accomplishing different tasks via different menus which sometimes had limited access, how sometimes the relationship between systems and options made some actions obsolete and other decision making processes feel paralyzing.
I’ve been in the Netherlands for the past week, seeing friends and experiencing beautiful things under no obligation or responsibility to do anything. These conditions are ripe for the growth of insights. I’ve had a fair number, but let’s just pick the most recent one, which is a two-parter so it’s like a bonus for you.
Sunset Overdrive is out in the wilds! And I feel…surprisingly good! I have talked before how I easily fall victim to post-creation depression. It’s always happened to me – in art, in the theater, in games – there’s this moment when the creation goes out into the world and leaves a big ole void in your heart. Generally I get very depressed, but this time feels different.
After some twitter musings the other night, I got several requests for my list of “books that aren’t about game design that I think game designers should read.” Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful texts on game design and game development in general with all sorts of useful information. However, I am fond of supplementing these reads with books from unrelated fields that still have something to teach about game design. I think it is because you have to forge your own connections when you read them, and when you do your own digging and have the insights yourself without them being presented to you, I find it tends to make the insights a little stickier. Basically it makes for good learnin’, so here we go!
Disclaimer: this post was written very late at night when the portal to subconscious Lisa brain was open. Sometimes weird, emotional stuff comes out when that happens.
I think it was my senior year of high school, and I was sitting on a swing in the park next to my friend, Nicole, while she explained her philosophy on categorization of love. Not romantic love, as you may expect high school girls to talk about, but love of people in general, of friendship and acquaintances.
Just a warning, this post is long, and jumps wildly from tales of pre-industry Lisa to silly kaiju comics. Just roll with it.
I experienced a somewhat bizarre sensation tonight on my bike ride home from Nick’s.
I was riding through the empty library parking lot just before my apartment, and I looked left and right before crossing the entrance like I always do. Now, whenever I look left and right before crossing a street, I always try very hard to remember to intentionally look forward as well.
This comes from a Kempo swim clinic I used to go to years ago, where we were taught stealth swimming among other things. You do a sort of slow, exaggerated freestyle stroke and llean left and right as you do so to scan your surroundings. My soke always emphasized to pay attention and look forward while doing this as well, because it was easy to scan to either side and completely block out was directly in front of you. A handy skill for combat swimming to notice the archer directly in front of you, but also for crossing the street so you don’t block out the car coming straight ahead while repeating the childhood mantra of “left, right, left again”
ANYway, as I was doing my safety scan, something about the openness and emptiness of the lot made me lean very far around and scan everything around me. It felt really odd, like looking across a panoramic picture. It was as though I suddenly felt aware of the fact that the world existed 360 degrees around me, that there was so much more outside the cone of my forward vision that I never really thought about before. This sounds ridiculous when you break it down like this, because of course I’m “aware” of the world at large (I was spending a lot of time today playing GeoGuessr, afterall), but that kind of awareness is like a slightly abstract mental construct I carry around in my head. Being suddenly physically aware of the total space around me felt different, slightly alarming, but altogether pleasing.
I’m assuming this sensation is a goal people try to achieve when being “mindful of their surroundings” in a meditative sense, and I just somehow tripped and stumbled into it. I suppose I have an experience target to shoot for now!
I’ve been thinking recently about my bike ride to work, mostly after listening to this awesome podcast a friend made about commuter biking. My sister-in-law is interviewed in it, and talks about how biking made her feel more integrated with her community, because of how she commonly experienced it with all of her senses. I was thinking about this on my own ride to work this morning, and pondering what my favorite sensations are during my commute. So here they are!
There are several groups of naturalized parrots that live along Brighton where I ride, and each morning they’re always flying overhead, cawing and squawking. It feels like riding through some kind of jungle. I also love hearing crows cawing and trilling, mostly because they sound so different from the crows back in Kentucky. At night on the ride home, I love listening to the chirping crickets, though it occasionally makes me homesick for the summer katydids back home.
The world smells wonderful right now because all the flowers are blooming, so that’s a bonus. However, I must admit that my favorite bike commute scents are on the way home from work, when I pass by the homes of families cooking dinner. I feel like I’m riding through invisible wafts of mid-preparation meal scents, and I always try and guess what’s for dinner tonight at this house or that. There’s one place in particular, and I haven’t pinpointed it, that seems to frequently cook over a wood fire. The downside is that I’m usually ravenous by the time I get home.
Burbank is a great place for a bike commute. You get that mild SoCal temperature most days and it’s blissfully flat. One day recently, though, I got caught in a mild rain on my ride home. I was surprised at how peaceful the experience was, and how gentle the rain was as it fell on my skin. I think that when in a car, even light rains can seem much more noisy and foreboding than they actually are when you are outside in them.
Most of my ride takes place on Brighton, which is a quiet neighborhood street one block over from Buena Vista. I love seeing all the different styles of houses and how they keep their gardens. My favorites are the ones with proper desert yards filled with pebbles and yucca and cacti. I’m also still delighted by the common sight of citrus trees in front yards, limbs heavy and drooping with ripe fruit. I really do live in a beautiful place.
So, has my bike commute made me feel more connected to my community? Maybe! It certainly has made me appreciate the beauty I get to experience every day, and what a lovely place Burbank can be.
If you are a facebook friend of mine, you'll know that earlier today I found what I thought to be a snake outside, and in my attempts to identify it, eventually realized that it was just a long, skinny lizard with tiny legs that I hadn't seen. The incident gave me pause to think about how interpret our entire reality through the filter of our minds, and sometimes that filter can just break on us.
In my example, I wasn't even the one to find the lizard. Davis was sniffing around and went rigid, then began to stalk something under the bush. I held him in and looked intently, trying to see what he could see, trying to force my mind to pick a pattern up in the brush to see through the camouflage that I assumed was there. Eventually I plucked out a patch of dried skin, connected it to a skinny scaley tail, and followed the body all the way to a head sitting still and watching back.
"Oh, it's a little snake, shedding its skin," I thought, pulling Davis's leash taut to interrupt his stalk, "but what kind of snake is it? Its head looks weird…" I continued to sit and watch intently, looking at the head and flicking through my internal catalog of snakes. I thought that its eyes were very small for a snake, it was a lizardy-looking face. I swept back and forth across its body, looking at the patterns on its scales, but nothing looked familiar. I took Davis in, got my camera to snap some close photos of the thing, then started looking up on the internet and trying to identify it.
I looked through all the common california snakes, asked my social network for ID help, but to no avail. After a fairly long time, looking at that weird head…that lizard-like head…I blinked and suddenly it all snapped into place. I instead looked up common California lizards, saw a more familiar scale pattern in a photo of a Southern Alligator Lizard, then looked back at my own photo. In the blink of an eye, the reality of my static photo changed.
The legs. They were *right there.* It was a lizard, not a snake, and the legs were right there in my own photo that I had taken and been studying intently. I'm sure anyone who saw me post the photo was probably thinking "Lisa, what's wrong with you? That's a lizard, it has legs!"
But at the time that my mind was in snake-id mode, my mind filtered them out. It turned them into debris and mulch and dismissed them to background noise as I instead laser-focused on its head. I was already too deep down the "snake" tree thinking about species that my mind didn't even consider checking the other top level "types of reptile" branches, even when I thought and even wrote "Its face looks kind of like a lizard." Even then my mind did not make the connection!
It's a little unsettling when something like this happens because it reminds me that even when our little brain filters are doing the best they can to process the world, sometimes they just don't work right. And that's all we have to go on. The only thing standing between us and the world is how our mind processes it, and you don't really have a way of knowing that your brain-filter is broken until after it finally kicks in and slides reality into place.
It's kind of like temporarily sliding into the brain of a madman, and that's terrifying, because you discover that being mad apparently feels completely normal.