After the mess that was CS106AP in the winter, I swore to never take another CS class again. Going into the spring, I was excited for my schedule, packed with creative writing and film classes. But on the first day of school, my heart was broken by disappointment.
The film class was in the basement of some building, with no natural light and the clock preventing me from hearing anything but the sound of time slowly passing away. The poetry class seemed to be packed with work, focused more on analyzing past poet’s work than cultivating our own craft.
I felt the slump I usually felt during week 6 of my classes on the first day, I dreaded going to those classes twice a week. But dropping them meant I would be in nine units.
If it were not for my best friend’s email being on the video game association’s email list and his adamant belief that this would not actually require much CS (as well as his expert debating skills brought to him by four years of speech and debate), I probably would not have taken the class. But here I am.
I was interested in the class because video and board games are such prevalent aspects of kid culture, how they are socialized about certain societal notions. I have never been a ‘gamer,’ and yet, I know the impact these games can have.
I really didn’t know what to expect. But I knew that I was already out of my comfort zone so I really wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Two people from my dorm were also taking the class and wanted to be in a group together for P1, but I wanted to meet new people. As a result, I felt a little nervous in the beginning giving my opinion on the P1 project when my entire group was composed of co-terms.
In high school, I was always the one doing the most work in group projects, so it was a (good) adjustment having everyone doing contribute something unique, something no one else was able to do.
I was in charge of playtesting in my freshman dorm, which brought up an interesting revelation: power dynamics. The first time I ever playtested my game, I actually wasn’t the one who did it. I had my best friend do it for me because I was too nervous to see how my dormmates would react and I felt too personally attached to this first project. I made sure I was out of sight and hearing range, but every time my best friend would come back running with good news, my heart lept.
I felt confident enough to do my own playtesting after that, but I began to notice a difference. People never took my playtesting / games seriously, especially if they were my friends. They did, on the other hand, take my best friend’s very seriously, carefully reading through the instructions, playing as if it were a real game, and strategizing to win. With mine, they glazed over the instructions, didn’t aim to accomplish the goal of the game, and still had the energy to look me in the eye and reassure me that it was ‘good’ when they didn’t even try to really play it.
This made me not want to playtest anymore, yet I had to do it project after project. I felt the pressure to impress people who had been playing board games throughout the year and hold my tongue when I could tell they were giving me accolades for making a good board game ‘as a girl who didn’t play them,’ as if they were surprised it even functioned.
It wasn’t until my P4, when I was re-working on my interactive fiction, that I realized I needed to really see value in my work and consider myself a game designer in order for people to take my craft seriously. I only went to people I knew would judge the game and not the context in which the game was made.
Every project, especially the interactive fiction, taught me to take small bites rather than trying to accomplish everything at once. Because you don’t know if something works until someone playtests it. I have always been someone who loved to do everything in one sitting and not show anyone until it was fully done. But that doesn’t work with game design; every part needs to be a collaborative effort with you, your team, and your target audience.
It was really freeing knowing that what you start with probably isn’t going to be what you end with. That change is good and sometimes starting over in the middle of the process is the best thing you could’ve done.
The readings have been one of my favorite parts of the class, because the lessons are so universal. I have taken away so much as a writer, a creative, a newbie Stanford student.
CS377G has taught me exponentially more than CS. It has taught me what it means to transform the human experience by truly understanding and catering to it. By revealing what people have always known yet cannot make tangible.
In the future, I am not sure if I will continue to make games. But I do know that this class has been one of the most challenging classes I have ever taken. Not because the content is difficult, but because of how vulnerable it forces the designer to be and the risks one has to take in order to truly make a great game. I know that good things come in expected places. And great stories can be told through a variety of mediums.
I mean, just by writing these medium articles, I have felt so creatively fulfilled.