There’s been a lot of talk about games as food recently. First, a week or so ago, there was Cliff Harris asserting that games were doughnuts then, more recently, I see Mr. Randy Pitchford likened Duke Nukem to a “greasy hamburger”. Now Twitter has been abuzz all day long with terrible puns involving a game and an item of food.
Clearly the stars are aligning for one reason and one reason alone. It’s time for me to finally reveal my own tremendously clever food-related game design theory. If you managed to somehow seal your vision ducts for the title and giant picture above then here it is again; fully revealed:
A good game is like carrot cake.
Though I feel, perhaps, I should explain in a little more detail why I’ve been thinking this ever since I first read Cliffs blog. For me this strikes to the heart of why I’m in love with the medium of games, more than any other. It’s why I’m obsessed with playing them, dissecting them and crafting them. I believe that there is something wonderful and terrifying about games, something that is going to be harnessed more and more in the future for good or ill. It’s their power to teach us; to powerfully imprint their designs on our psyche, to shape our brains.
Games, almost uniquely among mediums, put the person experiencing them directly within the experience. With a book, film or piece of music the consumer is a passive observer, they are being entertained at and being taught to. When you play a game, you shape the experience; you have a role and a place within the game world and to drive the experience onwards you are forced to engage with it and respond to its challenges. To engage with a game you are forced to understand the material it presents and to directly confront it, with a film or a book the experience might wash over you the events happening far away, you can become disconnected & disassociated in a way not possible while experiencing a game.
As such, I believe the power of games to teach us the lessons embedded wittingly or unwittingly in their designs is a hugely powerful one. I feel that, as a medium, the experiences and knowledge gained within games are more likely to stay with you longer. Games are already much better at conveying complicated systems, like those around which much of the world turns, but I also believe that, as the mediums matures, they will have the potential to generate more emotionally affecting experiences as well.
Games are still entertainment, they are there to provide satisfying experiences. They are for people who want to relax, escape reality or all the other reasons that people play games. Lurking behind that innocent fun though is this great shaping, teaching power. Designers can choose to ignore it; just forget about any lessons their games might be unintentionally imparting let the players worry about it – if they really want to. That’s a perfectly valid approach that has and will continue to lead to many good enjoyable games. However, I think, to be truly great a game should be aware of that lurking power to teach and use it to do some good.
Teach your players the lessons you would want them to learn while you are entertaining them. Teach them powerfully but subtly. Teach them about beauty and politics, about love and chemistry. Teach them without them ever noticing they are being taught then perhaps your game will be truly great.
Which is why they are like carrot cake. The carrot cake looks just like a delicious cake – it tastes just like a delicious cake. Yet somewhere, smuggled inside that shell of pure indulgence, the cook has concealed a load of nutritious vegetable. That’s a great cake.