I would contend that the purest goals a game can strive for are these three things:
To achieve these goals, there is a simple three-step process that you loop through over and over again while playing games:
This is neither good nor bad, it just seems to be how things are, best as I can tell. It can help you evaluate why you are, or are not, enjoying a game you’re playing. Or it can help determine what is, or is not, valuable about a game project you’re thinking of working on.
Despite its helpful qualities, I initially found it very troubling. How could something I’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours doing be so simplistic? And does the simplicity hide any greater complexities, or is the loop just fundamentally satisfying?
The concept occurred to me while tackling a classic beginner dev question: How do I get enemies to chase me? In my naivety, I tried overly messy ways of coding it until I found a simple set of instructions: LookAt() and MoveTowards().
I was sitting there, staring at this obvious solution, and it occurred to me how it reflected a larger pattern. Ultimately, I find this idea encouraging and not at all troubling, because even if gameplay is defined by a three-step loop, it can still be a mysterious and magical experience.
Perhaps I was initially disturbed by the idea’s simplicity because I place too high a value on my own ‘intelligence’. Maybe I found it hard to believe that a galaxy brain like yours truly could be entertained by such small-minded tactics, by shiny trinkets made to impress children… fat, stupid children.
I guess that makes me a fat, stupid child then. A stupid kid fatso who never wants to grow up.
Sadly, we all have to grow up eventually. And part of that is acknowledging your shortcomings, giving up hubristic tendencies and watching all your friends get married or die. If you’re lucky you might gain some insights along the way, you know to help make the suffering more bearable.
Look, I’m not saying that my childhood ended the day I came up with this concept. But I can’t help but see the “Look At, Move To, Do Something” pattern everywhere. I’m continually repeating those three steps, whether I’m playing “Doom” or “Civilization”, but does it really matter if I’m also having a blast while doing it?
(inserts GIF of crazy guy from ‘the Warriors’ saying “BECAUSE I LIKE DOING THINGS LIKE THAT”)
The reason I never thought of gameplay in those terms before was probably due to ‘psychological flow’, which is its own topic and worth looking into if you haven’t already. I believe that “Look, Move, Do” is closely related to the ‘flow’ experience. It makes sense that I failed to notice it earlier, since ‘flow’ dictates that you stop noticing things around you and become solely immersed in the activity.
If you have worked on any video game projects then you know most ideas will change in minor and major ways during development (visual style, narrative, game mechanics). My hope is that you can use this “Look, Move, Do” concept to evaluate elements in your own projects and be able to identify what makes them special. It’s easy to get ‘lost in the weeds’ while working out a concept, but hopefully this idea can help you with that process.
Or maybe you can use it to pick the right outfit for that big meeting later this week, oh my gosh. Remember: the better you look, the more you see. But also remember: Success is a four-letter word that has more than four-letters.