Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Journeys, Destinations, and Serendipity

I have not written much lately, although it is not for a lack of ideas.  I have notes written down on a number of interesting, game-related topics that I'm planning on writing about in the near future, either on this blog or a Postcard From Berlin on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Most of my time is spent with work (my real job), my family (wife and two young, very active sons), and my studies (I'm working towards a masters degree).  When I do have time for my gaming hobby, which is very little these days, I must decide between playing the games in my collection (especially getting some of the unplayed ones to the table), writing about games and game design, or developing new game ideas I've had (written down as they come to me in the shower, in traffic, etc.).  In deciding how to spend my limited "action points", I experience the same kind of tension found in my favorite games--those in which you have so many things you want to do, but are unable to do them all.

I am thankful that I have the choice, as I enjoy all three aspects of the hobby, and have made friends in each area as well.  In the end, however, one must have a priority--at least for a round or two, until the desire for something different comes along and a change of strategies is in order.

For a time, I was burned out on game design, having spent a great deal of energy to get some fairly complex games ready to be published, and a couple of other designs in which I'd invested quite a bit of energy were just not getting anywhere.  After a break, however, I've rediscovered the joy of it, and have been developing several ideas simultaneously, both old and new.  It's fun again, and I'm finding inspiration everywhere I look, whether it be in a conversation, the internet, or a children's book.  I feel as though I'd been staying at a hostel for a time, and am just now heading out of town on a new road.

I've often heard that the "journey is the destination," and I think that it is something good to think about for those who get tunnel vision and can only focus on a fixed point on the horizon.  It is possible to be overly focus on that final goal, however, if one rushes through the process to get there.   There is much to be learned and gained from the journey, and one can miss the best parts by moving too fast. However, from my own experience, I find that BOTH are equally important:  the journey AND the destination.  Focus too much on the journey, and one can also lose site of the reason one set out in the first place, and a lack of an alternative destination can bring creativity to a standstill.

I recently read a blog by puzzle game inventor Raf Peeters, who describes the journey and destination of game design far more eloquently than I have.  In his article, he describes it as "serendipity," which he defines as "when you are searching for something, sometimes you find something else."

The inventor who begins and ends with the "big idea," writes Peeters, is a myth.  Instead, it's all about setting out on a journey in which you have an idea where you are headed, but are also open to taking different paths to get there, and you might even end up at a different destination altogether.  If you've been paying attention ("actively searching" and taking notes, writes Peeters), then the place you come to will be a rewarding one.

Inventing a game that works--and especially one that gets published and played--is a rewarding destination. It does not happen without all the interesting experiences and lessons of the journey, however. Just read one of the many "Designer Diaries" here or on BoardGameGeek for proof of that.

But enough writing for now--it's time to get back to the games I'm currently designing.  After all, the design process itself also has multiple paths to victory, a worthwhile journey to a worthwhile destination. And, if we're open to it, serendipity can play a part in taking us somewhere better than the "big idea" that  pushed us out the door in the first place.

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