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How Playing Games Together Spreads Holiday Cheer

Santa Playing Board Game

When I was growing up, my brothers and I were constantly fighting with each other. Our sibling rivalry turned our house into a war zone, and I don’t know how the three of us survived to reach adulthood. However there was one thing that would cause us to call a truce, and that was playing a board game together. Our hallway linen closet didn’t hold linen, but copies of Monopoly, Candy Land, Scrabble, Battleship, Operation, Risk, Stratego, Clue, Sorry!, Mousetrap, The Game of Life, and many other classic board games. All it took to set aside our differences was a chance to sit on opposite sides of kitchen table and channel our conflict through dice roles and meeple movement.

Fortunately my own sons did not inherit the rivalry of my siblings and I, but they did inherit our love of board games — although their tastes run toward European games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Forbidden Island. Now that they are grown and lead busy lives, we don’t have many opportunities to play together, except on holidays and other family gatherings. But rarely does a visit go by without someone bringing out a board game to play before it’s time for us to part again.

Santa Playing Board Game

There’s a universal appeal to the shared experience of playing a game together. My wife and I occasionally host Chinese students who are visiting schools in the United States and want an opportunity to live with an American family for a few days. I’ve found that despite our cultural differences and language barrier, every child we’ve hosted enjoys playing games. Play is the great unifier. As the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga observed in his landmark book Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, “You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.”

Holidays are a great time to put aside all serious matters and focusing on play. Games are a great source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well as children. They can sharpen the mind, build relationships between people, and bring the ones you love closer together. Follow Johan’s advice this holiday season: you can deny everything else, but don’t deny yourself the joy of play.



Ten New Year’s Game Dev Resolutions for 2018

As the Earth begins another journey ’round the Sun, it’s time for the annual tradition of resolving to accomplish a list of goals for improving one’s life. With this being a game development blog, here my list of career-related New Year’s resolutions that I have compiled for your reading pleasure but have no realistic expectations of actually accomplishing this year more than any previous year I’ve made such lists.

Here we go!

  1. Expand My Social Media Reach: Creating a brand for yourself has become an essential step in managing your career, and social media is a terrific way to build, craft and enhance your brand, as well as bring attention to your accomplishments and connect better with new and existing contacts.  Now, I’m very good at regularly posting to Twitter and am pretty good at writing a weekly blog update (although I’ll let you in on a secret — when I miss a week, I’ll often write that week’s blog later and then backdate it). However, I do need to take greater advantage of image-based ones like Snapchat and Instagram, because I hear that’s what all the kid’s use.
  2. Add Videos To My YouTube Channel: I started a YouTube channel a couple of years ago and began creating a series of videos about Gamification.  Unfortunately, my PC blew up and it took all the video I had recorded with it, along with my favorite video editing program.  What I need to do is bite the bullet and get a new computer (my MacBook Air is on its last legs too) and better recording equipment, because I’ve also been meaning to create a new series of Boy Scout Game Design Merit Badge videos.
  3. Spotlight More Student Work: Last year I began covering more of my student’s in my blog posts, as well as posting Facebook videos of their project presentations at the our monthly Los Angeles Film School Game Fair. However, I’d like to make these spotlights more of a formal element of the classwork to give them a broader audience for creating games.
  4. Attend More Game Industry Events: I manage to attend E3 and IndieCade every year, the Game Developers Conference about every two years, and the USC GamePipe Lab every semester, not to mention the International Game Developer Association events in which I participate, but there are many more venues in which I can meet more people, learn new things, and find inspiration.
  5. Speak at More Conferences:  Later this month I’ll be leading an ageism panel at Casual Connect, and in September I’ll be a guest at a The Prisoner convention to talk about the Apple II game I developed based on the show.  But that’s not enough.  Noah Falstein once told me that the way he got clients for his game design consulting business was by speaking at conferences, and if I want to increase my consulting business, I need to do the same.
  6. Play More Video Games. I’ve always found it difficult to find time for doing things by and for myself, so unless I’m doing specific research or have been asked by someone to play a video game with them, I have a hard time setting aside a dozen hours or so to play a video game just for enjoyment.  However, if I don’t do just that, I won’t be staying current in my field.  So, I just need a way to justify it — perhaps by writing game reviews.
  7. Play More Tabletop Games. I learned about game design from playing tabletop games throughout my childhood, and now I use tabletop games for teaching my students about game mechanics, since it is so much easier to “look under the hood” and create prototypes for tabletop games than it is with video games.  I do need to play a broader variety of these games, but fortunately, their social nature makes it a lot easier for me to play tabletop games than single-player video games.  I recently joined a Board Game Meet-Up in Hollywood that meets very frequently, and on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we played board games as a family after dinner.  Now with the holiday over, I need to make more opportunities to play games with my family.
  8. Read More Game Design Books: I rely heavily on Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop and Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses in my classroom, but there are so many other great game design books out there that give new perspectives and insights.  I am particularly looking forward to reading Mike Seller’s new book, Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach.
  9. Become more active: As a game developer and teacher, I tend to sit in front of my computer or my classroom all day long, but continuing to do so will eventually have a negative effect on my posture and health. Last year we got a dog that liked to take long walks, and so I got into the habit of walking him around the neighborhood every day.  Unfortunately, he became destructive when left alone while we were at work, and so we had to return him to the rescue shelter were we originally found him. However, I’ve kept in to the habit of taking an hour-long walk each morning, but I need to challenge my heart and muscles a bit more, and so I resolved to turn some of those walks into hikes in the hills around my home.
  10. Stop procrastinating: The biggest barrier that keeps most people from reaching their goals is the desire to do something fun instead of working hard. Once you get used to procrastinating it’s difficult to snap yourself out of it, so you’ll need to put in a lot of work to change this bad habit. Unfortunately, I put this one on my list every year, but somehow I never get around to addressing it.  Maybe this year, I will!

So, how about you?  What are some of the New Year’s Resolutions you recommend for game developers?