Game Development Reference
The FALLACY OF VISION is the idea that a mental movie of an experience
is equivalent to a design for a system that generates that experience.
Humans are naturally predisposed to make decisions using mental
movies. We picture a story, evaluate how the image makes us feel, and
decide based on that emotional response. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert calls
this technique prefeeling .
In many cases, prefeeling makes sense. It leverages our emotional
unconscious's ability to quickly generate a nuanced opinion of a complex
idea. Do you want to go to a movie? Prefeel it. Want to eat that meal? Prefeel
again. It's an easy, fast, and often effective way of making decisions about
We do the same thing in game design when we evaluate a potential
game by imagining playing it. An especially powerful mental movie is
often called a vision. And vision can be a wellspring of inspiration. It moti-
vates in a way that only stories can.
But visions are also misleading. A vision defines an experience. But a
game isn't an experience—it's a system for generating experiences. Just as
it would be foolish to confuse a perfect flight with a perfect airplane, it's
foolish to confuse a vision of a great game experience for the design of a
The vision says nothing about the trade-offs and costs in the system
behind that experience. It tells us nothing of all the other experiences
that this game will also generate. This matters because players don't just
experience the best of a game—they experience all of it. Furthermore, vi-
sions always hide flaws in a design, because we naturally envision only the
best experiences in a game we create. We picture the exciting battle, not
the five-minute walk from base. We picture the clutch save, but not the 10
random failures. We see the good side of trade-offs, but our minds edit out
the bad. This pattern generates overconfidence in design plans and leads
to overplanning. So, while designers should take motivation from a vision,
we must also question its accuracy.
Try this antidote for the fallacy of vision: instead of trying to envi-
sion the best experiences generated by a game, try to envision the worst.
Carefully picture every frustrating failure, boring grind, and unclear
interaction. This takes more cognitive effort than picturing a wonderful
movie in the mind. But it is far more informative because it shows us a
balanced picture of the game instead of cherry-picking the best outcomes.
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