Participating in Design

This week’s post for “User Experience and Prototyping” comes down to Participatory Design. Without further notice, the question is as follows:

Participatory Design (PD) is rooted in a real concern people have that technology and design will overshadow them. They basically want to have a say in how they conduct their lives and how design choices will affect them. But an argument could be made that games are – in a sense – voluntary. People don’t have to play them, at least not in the same mandatory way they have to deal with design choices made in their workplace environment. Thus, the design of games may not need to have the kind of political overtones that PD automatically gives off.

But is this true? Agree or Disagree? Is this more or less applicable for some types of games than others? Discuss.

At first, I found the answer to be fairly logical: Yes, it is true, as games are voluntary. It is something we do for fun, to distract ourselves from the everyday chores and escape to places that does not remind us of the choices we have to make all the time.

But, naturally, it hit me that it simply was not true – or, at the very least, not the complete truth, based on a very simple fact: Games has been here forever. Of course, they have not been around forever in the shape of video games, but as an idea it has: sports, gambling and betting, economics – you name it. There is a reason the term “game theory” is far from limited to what is commonly referred to as games these days. With that in mind, I drifted more towards answering the question with the complete opposite as before: No, games are not voluntary – you play them every waking moment, whether you think you are aware of it or not. It all comes down to how you perceive the fundamental idea of what a “game” is, and how it is perceived.

When you think about it, games themselves are a design-method, which can be shown through the idea of gamification, which has often shown that applying game-elements to things that do not already have them, will make them more appealing, by going through our basic need to achieve and prove ourselves. Play and invent ways to optimize doing laundry and the dishes.

But (yes, another but) at some point, you will always lose control. It is always great being in control, but some things needs to be put in the hands of others. When thinking along the lines of PD, it is worth to consider the obvious: Why even have game designers, if you were the only one designing the games for yourself? One might even consider the absolute extreme, if games is thought of a way of design itself: PD is meta-design. That would, in turn, bring up the question whether or not there will be games in which the goal is to design games. It might be a rather abstract thought, but it was something that we have already tried. In the end, my point is this: More control is usually not better, and it certainly has the potential of making things more complicated than they already are.

So, going back to the second part of the question: is the sense of control more applicable for some types of games than others? Most certainly, but I think the actual list of games would vary a lot from person to person, by choosing a game that resembles something far outside your everyday life. A professional biker’s view of a game is probably very different than that of guy working the stock-markets. Perhaps that is why I play fewer games than before I started studying game design – who knows…?

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