Guidelines for discussion about game design


Staff member
Game design discussion is hard, no doubt about it. That being said, I’d like to think I’ve learned something about good game design discussion after spending many years at Dinofarm. Here’s a quick list of guidelines that should help facilitate good discussion in a forum setting:

1. Be as specific as possible.

If you speak generally, people will assume your statement was meant generally. Then they’ll bring up a counter-example that you’re not very interested in, and neither of you will get anywhere.

You say: “Games must be very complicated.”
Your conversation partner responds: “What about Super Hexagon? Does that need to be complicated?”

Instead, be specific about what you mean. Talk about your design goals and what kind of game you’re actually talking about. You might instead say, “Lifestyle strategy games must be very complicated.” Try to think before you make a statement about what sort of qualifiers might need to be added to it, to prevent getting a dumb counterexample in response.

2. Don’t quibble over definitions

A lot of arguments boil down to fights over linguistic territory. Some people’s models of the world view videogames as art. Some don’t. People will argue endlessly about this linguistic territory, and nothing productive ever comes out of it.

If two people have different definitions of the same word, that word is poisoned. Don’t argue about the word. This will get nowhere because no logical fact can win a war over linguistic territory. Don’t ask the other person to accept the definition of this word “for the purposes of discussion”. The other person will have too much cognitive dissonance to engage sincerely, and furthermore they wouldn’t be fighting over the definition if they were willing to cede the territory so easily.

Instead, ban contentious words from your vocabulary, or add qualifiers so that you can both agree on the meaning.

Another type of discussion doesn’t involve linguistic war, but linguistic navel gazing. Questions like, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” or “Is Super Hexagon a rhythm game?” are prime examples. They don’t really do anything interesting besides point out things on the edge of a definition. Remember that words exist in your head, not the universe. If God himself came down and gave a definitive answer to the falling tree riddle, would that even tell you anything?

3. Separate personal preference from the universe

It can be hard to fully separate your own preferences from what is good, in general. This week I claimed that games would be better if they were all single player or cooperative, and the response was the reasonable critique that maybe that just applied to me, not everyone.

If you’re not sure whether something applies generally or personally, it’s good to stick some personal qualifiers onto your statement. “I’d prefer if all games were 1p or coop” is much less needlessly controversial.

4. Once you have had your say, leave the conversation

Forums are a public place. In order for your post to be worthwhile, it has to provide above average value, on net, to the entire community. How often have you seen a thread that went on and on between two people, about a topic that is only incidentally related to the initial topic? This has a huge chilling effect on further discussion about the actual topic at hand, and should be avoided at all costs. Also: if you are going to leave a thread, just leave. Please do not post about how you are leaving the thread!

In practice, thread quality drops off super quick after everyone has posted twice. When in doubt, leave a thread after you have had your 2 post say. Don’t argue endlessly with the other guy who will just not stop being wrong. You and him are both wrecking the commons and ruining things for everyone else.

There are times when someone will say something off topic that interests you. In these cases, start a new thread! The cost for new threads is low compared to the costs incurred by trashing an existing thread.

5. Be nice!
In general, try to remember that everyone here's people. Before typing something, think about Happy Snake. Would Happy Snake make this post? Look deep into these eyes and ask yourself. . .

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