Game Development Reference
combat with sticks or pillows to learn fighting skills. They pretend to live
adults' lives as soldiers, socialites, or builders. They're practicing to be
grownups, and loving every minute of it because that's what helped their
As we mature, we gain the capacity to develop more esoteric interests
with less obvious reproductive purposes. For example, I've spent years
studying game design, but I'm reasonably sure that none of my ancestors
ever had caveman babies because they developed a better version of Throw
the Rock. But no matter how old we are, the lessons that affect us most are
still the ones that matter to human values—the ones that can shift loneli-
ness to togetherness, or poverty to wealth. So games that teach players to
build, socialize, and fight will always have the broadest impact.
The more intricate and nonobvious a lesson is, the greater the pleasure
of learning it.
If a lesson is obvious, there's not much buzz in finally getting it be-
cause it was always fairly clear. If it's a subtle idea hidden in the folds of
some complex system, learning it might be a life-changing experience
because it represents a unique epiphany hidden to most people.
So the game designer's challenge is to create game systems with layers
of nonobvious properties to decode. This means making a deep game that
reveals lessons through layers, each one building on the one before it.
Some classic games such as chess or poker are famous for the lifelong
learning they can provide. Shallow games like tic-tac-toe are the opposite.
The best learning moments happen when we compress a pile of learn-
ing into a short time through the mechanism of insight .
Players feel INSIGHT when they receive a new piece of information that
causes many old pieces of information to suddenly make sense.
Insight is the experience of getting a new piece of information that
sets off a chain reaction of other lessons. It happens when we get the final
piece of a logical puzzle that clicks into place and reveals the shape of the
For example, in a strategy game, an enemy base is revealed at a spot
where you saw some enemy constructors a few minutes earlier. You men-
tally kick yourself and say, “I should have known!” Or, in chess, your op-
ponent makes a series of seemingly nonsensical moves which later turn
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