First of all my best wishes to you for 2008. It’s been a bit quiet around here lately—the last proper post was published December 19. Shame on me. The usual apologies apply: I’ve been busy doing work, but also spend some time catching up with friends and family in the Netherlands around the holidays.
I was considering doing the traditional look back at 2007 and perhaps post some resolutions for the coming year, but I won’t. 2007 has segued into 2008. Therefore I feel it’s best to just dive in and tell you what’s been occupying my mind lately.
How exactly do the fields of game design and interaction design relate? I’ve found myself straddling the line between the two more and more often. And what I’ve been wondering: Can game design be considered a specialised sub-discipline of interaction design, or are the two equals with some overlap? (Or can interaction design perhaps even be considered part of game design?)
Here’s a diagram of how I tend to think of the relationship between the two fields:
Seen this way, interaction design and game design each have their own body of knowledge with some overlap. From this perspective you could consider my work to be brokering of some sort—passing information back and forth between the two. I tend to place myself in the interaction design circle, making the occasional foray into game design territory and bringing back interesting stuff I find.
But there’s at least one other way of looking at these two fields:
I was trained to be an interaction designer. But part of the curriculum consisted of game design. Nowadays interaction design’s emphasis on efficiency naturally makes it irreconcilable with game design. At the Utrecht School of Arts, these two were not seen as being at odds with each other. You can consider this a gross oversight, or alternatively as proof of a far-reaching vision. Whatever.
In any case, it can be argued that (digital) game design is simply a very specialised sub-discipline of interaction design. This is not to say it is in any way less valuable than ‘regular’ interaction design. However, it might help people in both fields to advance their practice if they look at each other this way. Which is more or less a summary of what I’ve been arguing ever since I went freelance last year.
The problem is of course that in reality the two fields—or to be more exact the two communities of practice—are very much separate from each other. I’ve been trying to make some change there, in my own little way.
On the other hand this might just be me trying to justify my interest in game design as an interaction designer…
But perhaps there’s something more than just professional guilt at play here. I’m not sure yet. Some observations that might support one or the other view:
- Although their definition of games is very exact, Salen & Zimmerman‘s definition of play is broader: “Play is free movement within a more rigid structure.” Isn’t that an apt description of what people do with anything interactive?
- The Interaction Design Association defines interaction design on their site and says it concerns: “the structure and behavior of interactive products and services”. Surely that includes digital games?
- I don’t have the book with me at the moment, but I seem to remember Koster mention something about game design ultimately being about putting people in touch with each other. Sounds like interaction design to me.
In any case, as long as I need 400+ words to explain why I want to do both interaction design and game design, I’ll be in trouble. Can you boil it down for me?