Design & Style, Sports & Gaming

Develop a Game Language

Will Wright

Lesson time 07:05 min

Games use a system of signs and symbols to communicate meaning to the player. Will teaches how to create and use your own “game language” to educate players about the rules of your game world.

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Topics include: Teach the Player Your Game Language • Reference Real-World Play


As a designer, you're putting a player into this world of yours, and through their interactions and freedom and agency that you give them in your world, you're actually kind of developing a language with the player. The players are basically learning this language in playing the game, and it's the designer that's creating the world that is defined by that language. There's an interesting aspect to games, which is-- and this idea was way before computer games-- of the magic circle. And this is the idea, especially in social games, that you have kids come together and they decide they're going to play whatever, hopscotch, and the players of the game are basically now within this thing we call the magic circle. They are bound by the rules of that game. Other people might be outside observing, watching the game, and they're not in that circle. In some sense, you're kind of building a temporary community with the players within that game and they're all basically bound by the game rules and living in that world together. This is, in some sense, one of the fundamental parts of game language. Are you playing or not? Who's playing in that game right now? As a language within games, I think that we do have the same types of grammar that real language has. In the world, things are basically kind of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. I might go out the door to see this dog barking at me. The dog is basically the noun, it's the thing. The verb might be bite. I'm afraid he's going to bite me. Adjective is mad. He's a mad dog, he's barking at me. Based upon that, I will you decide me run fast away from the dog, whatever. That you can almost interpret everything in the world according to these parts of speech. In a game, players will encounter the same thing. What is that? What can it do? What does my agency allow me to do against it? And so that's the kind of language that the players need to learn in your game very rapidly and feel very comfortable and almost transparent in learning that. When you're designing what the language of your game is-- the nouns, verbs, adjectives-- of course, it depends entirely on the setting in which you're putting a single player into. You can describe a setting or show a player a screen and tell them, what would you imagine wanting to do here? I think that's a good starting point. As a player, what are the things I think I should be able to do? What things occur to me right off the bat? And you can actually just talk to people and show them the setting and see what they say, see what the most common answers are. As they move through your space, however that space is displayed, things will occur to them. I wish I could do that. Can I move this? Can I pick that up? Can I put something there? And so for a lot people, it's just going to be-- once they immerse themselves in this little world, they're going to be a set of things that they would like to try. And if you give then a goals state, say okay, try to do th...

About the Instructor

Learn the art and science of game design with Will Wright, the mind behind SimCity and The Sims. In this game design class, Will teaches you how to create games that empower players and unleash their imagination. You’ll develop a tool set for understanding player psychology, as well as learn Will’s approach to generating and pitching ideas, prototyping, playtesting, and building a community.

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