I'm sure that in the game industry, that made game designers easy to screen out. If you ask a question like "what's your favorite game" and then start analyzing that game -- what were the design mistakes (no game is perfect, even your favorite), what would you have done differently, what elements of the game make it so compelling -- the discussion flows naturally with the right candidate. For the people who are more gamer than game designer, though, this kind of question is anathema. "What do you mean, critique my favorite game of all time? It's awesome, it's great, what more is there to say?"
Because that's clearly helpful in a design document, saying that the game should be "great" and "awesome."
Now, I'm in the position of teaching people to be game designers, and it's just occurred to me that my classes have a high proportion of gamers in them, and not everyone sees the distinction. I didn't notice the dividing line in my classes either, until just now when grading the final exam. One of the questions goes something like this: "Write a one-paragraph game concept for a video game that has the following constraints: blah blah blah." And the answers that I get fall into a few different categories:
- "My game will be just like a combination of this game and this other game." Great, but what if I haven't played those games? And how do you plan on being innovative if all of your ideas are based on earlier video games?
- "My game has this story..." Okay, maybe you have a future as a story writer, but my class is in game design, specifically core mechanics. What does the player do?
- A full paragraph with all sorts of things describing how great and fun it will be, with maybe two words to give some clue as to the actual gameplay. These are the fanboys (or fangirls, I suppose, but in my experience it's always the guys that do this). It makes me sad to see that after ten full weeks of learning about how to speak critically about games, as soon as I ask someone to apply it then it all goes out the window and they revert to their earlier fanboy status. I suppose there are some kinds of people that I haven't figured out how to reach yet.
- And every now and then, I see a student who writes a concept that includes a description of mechanics and gameplay. Apparently, it doesn't occur to them that the question would be asking for anything else (and they're right).
Generally, the students who answer in the latter category are the ones who tend to do well in the class overall. It's making me wonder if this is something of a litmus test for game designers: ask an open-ended question that involves designing a simple game concept, and see what people do. Maybe I'll try that on the first day of class next time, as opposed to on the final exam...
And then for the students who aren't getting it on Day One, I need to work out some strategy to get them to abandon their lifelong gamer mentality for long enough to start thinking like a designer.