Community Building for Game Designers | Critical Lens

Hello everybody, and welcome to AnthroView.
Today we’ll be presenting the last video in our Critical Lens series
‘Anthropology for Tabletop Game Designers,’ and in this video I’m going to be
talking to you about community building. Now, community building is a process that
often gets taken for granted, and part of the reason for that is that it seems
like it’s just a natural process that plays out when we interact with people.
And to some degree that’s what it is. But when you examine it from an
anthropological point of view, you start to uncover some of the subtle
complexities and the important features of building a community. So in this video
I going to talk about things, like communities of practice and reciprocity,
that kind of lend insight into the way that community building can help game
designers build a stronger community, can help individuals become better designers,
and that makes the game design community better for everyone involved.
Now some of the things I talk about in this video might be things that you are
already doing or some of it might seem a little overly theoretical but
understanding the reason why we carry out different practices or why it’s
important to do things like going to playtesting events and talking with
other people about design and games in general helps us to understand how we
can participate and build a stronger game design community for everybody
involved in the process, and in turn, how those behaviors make us better designers.
So that’s why I decided to end the series using this as kind of the
capstone of all the other lessons that I’ve hopefully helped you pick up along
the way. So I hope you enjoy this video let’s get to it. In previous videos, I’ve talked about how
to collect data from playtesters and the importance of fully engaging with the
design process, but many of the topics in this series so far have been predicated
on the idea that you are already part of a tabletop game design community. And if
you’re already reading about design, talking about design, and designing and
playtesting games, then congratulations! You’re already part of the game design
community. But there’s more to community building and participation than that.
Remember: tabletop games are all about interactions, and that means design is
more than just the brain work you do when creating cards and mechanics; it’s
also about the people who play your designs, how they play and interact, and
how you can benefit from playing and interacting with them. When I designed
this project, one of the core concepts I was using to build my research design
was the idea of communities of practice. This concept was developed by Jean Lave
and Etienne Wenger to explore the ways that we learn skills and information
from our colleagues. A community of practice is a group of people who work
together, share ideas and values, and who benefit from interactions with various
members of the group, and by extension, each member provides benefits to that
group through those interactions. In his aptly titled book, “Communities of
Practice,” Wenger wrote that, “the primary focus of this theory is on learning as
social participation,” going on to say “social participation shapes not only
what we do but also who we are and how we interpret what we do.” Simply put, it’s
a way of learning in which we pick up skills and knowledge through our
interactions with others. Now, I don’t want to bog you down with a lot of
theoretical discussion here, but there are some important ideas to lay out that
will help you understand how this concept of communities of practice can
benefit your design practice. Wenger identified four components of this
‘social theory of learning:’ meaning, practice, community, and identity. Those
four concepts illustrate how we learn many things in life, especially since
humans are social creatures. Think of it this way: meaning is how we experience
learning; practice is what we do while learning; community is how we learn from
each other; and identity is how what we learn has the potential to change us.
This is a very broad overview, and a closer reading on Wenger’s book could
benefit anyone interested in social learning, but I’ll try to simplify these
concepts using my own experiences in game design. At the outset of this
project, my identity included being an anthropologist and a tabletop game
player – among other things – and my early design practice included reading rule
books, and making house rules from my D&D campaigns, and playing tabletop games, of
course. My community was my friends who I gamed with and with whom I
occasionally discussed ideas for our own game designs. Wenger identifies ‘meaning’
for communities of practice as the ways that a practice fits into our everyday
lives. Games meaning for me was that they were a source of fun and camaraderie
during a somewhat tumultuous upbringing; they were an escape, to some degree, but
also served as an effective way to connect with friends. I especially loved
co-op action games and that has persisted through today into my tabletop
gaming hobby. These categories evolved as I began to get interested in design and
started participating in a community of practice. My identity started to
incorporate my role as a graduate student and aspiring game designer. I
added to my practice reading about design and books, learning about design
from game studies and design classes at my university, and making my own
prototypes. As I began to attend game design meetups, my community expanded to
include other designers: ones I met at those events, as well as those who write
about design online and in books. And as far as meaning I started to
incorporate a view that games were something more than just components and
rules; they are social experiences: intricate systems of interaction, and an
interest that continues to occupy much of my mental bandwidth. This is just a
long way of saying that my interest in tabletop game design situated me firmly
into a community of practice. So that was a lot of theoretical stuff, and
understanding how we learn can be a useful way to think deeply about topics,
but you’re here for the practical stuff, right? So let’s talk about applying this
to your practice. I can’t stress enough that the best thing you can do to be a
better designer is to participate in an active community of players and other
designers. If you’re new to design, you should waste no time in finding people
to talk to about games and design, and who will play your prototypes. Start by
finding a venue where people are playing games: a local game store or cafe, a
public meet up, a convention, or a designer event. You can find these kinds
of events online – or even better – if you know someone who is part of a gaming
group, ask them to bring you along. This is a great way to introduce yourself to
a new community of tabletop gamers. But even if you don’t have anyone to
introduce you, that’s okay. Tabletop gamers are always looking for new
players, and game designers are extremely friendly, supportive, and inviting people,
and there are plenty of online resources where you can find people to talk about
design and play prototypes with. Look around on, BoardGameGeek,
Facebook groups, or similar websites where people connect and see who is
doing design in your area. It might be intimidating at first, but if my
experiences tell me anything, it’s that designers are always enthusiastic about
new people joining their community, and they love to share their design insights
and play new prototypes from aspiring designers. Now, depending on where you
live, finding playtesting communities might be more challenging,
but if that is the case I suggest asking around at your friendly local game store
to see if anyone who works or dhops at the store is interested in design. You
can also look into tabletop gaming conventions and their websites. Most cons
have some kind of design community presence, and you should be able to find
some information about connecting with those groups on sites like Meetup or on
Facebook groups. I suggest taking any chance you can get to attend a protospiel or tabletop prototype event. The people you meet could end up being your
collaborators and friends in the future, and the feedback you get on your
prototypes could lead to major innovations in your designs or your
practice overall. Once you have a group to playtest with, it’s time to implement
those social science skills we covered in my earlier videos. If you haven’t
watched them yet, I suggest you check them out, to pick up some data collection
techniques and anthropological methods for examining behaviors and practices.
Having a good eye for how people respond to experiences during play is helpful at
all stages of prototyping, and will serve you well in all your design endeavors. If
you already have a prototype ready to go, definitely bring it to every event you
attend, even if you don’t know anyone there or aren’t sure if other designers
will even be there. It never hurts to offer gamers a new experience, and – if you
meet them – other designers will want to play your prototype, even if they don’t
know you yet. That has definitely been my experience in the design community.
Designers are excited to see what others are making and the try out prototypes at
any stage of development, and from people at any level of expertise, and lots of
tabletop gamers love to see a new game system, even if they aren’t explicitly
interested in design themselves. If you play and design games, chances are you’ve
got a good sense of how mechanics and systems can work together, so don’t be
afraid to show off what you have. But even if you don’t have a prototype ready
to go, you should still go and play some other designers games. It’ll be a great
opportunity to broaden your design practice and you’ll meet some people you’ll
want to stay connected with as you start to delve into the world of design. In
other words, get out there and participate with some designers. Okay, so
once you’ve been to some prototyping events, you’re going to want to become
more engaged with the design community. Just going to events and talking with
other folks interested in tabletop gaming is great, but what does it really
mean to be part of a community? And how can we increase our engagement and give
back to other designers? Figuring that out is the next step to becoming a vital
part of your community. In his GDC talk on community management, Sean ‘Day9′ Plott
argues that one of the best things you can do to help build a community is to
contribute to it. I’ll put a link to that video below, but there are some simple
things you can do to put Plotts advice to work. Going to events and playtesting
people’s designs is contributing; talking about design with newcomers and
experienced designers is contributing; interacting on message boards and online
forums of contributing; and creating things that are helpful to other
designers is contributing. The important thing to remember is that you are not
participating just to reap the benefits of the goodwill you’ll gain. You’ll want
to contribute to the community for the sake of contributing, not because you’re
expecting to be owed something in return. Plott emphasizes this when he says “the
currency of community is contribution.” Contributing to a community is one of
the best ways to build that community, and due to the principle of reciprocity –
which I’ll talk about more in a minute – a stronger community benefits all members.
You can lead by example by offering to chat about games and by playing other
designers’ prototypes, but you aren’t doing it just to benefit yourself.
These are fringe benefits of contribution, not the reason for doing so.
When I began this project, the whole point was to create something useful for
designers. That’s the point of these videos. I didn’t study tabletop
designers through an anthropological lens just to lock that knowledge up
in a place where relatively few people could access it;
I chose YouTube as a platform to distribute my findings so that anyone
could explore them, and – hopefully – learn from what I’ve done. Creating something
like an app or video series where you use your own experiences, perspectives,
and skills to inform other people in your community is a great way to
contribute. You can create something practical for designers using your
knowledge and resources. That’s why my videos are about social science methods;
because that’s a topic I know about and I can share it with others.
Not everyone has the time or resources to go out and study every subject that
could be helpful to their design work, but a quick synthesis and actionable
lessons can be tremendously helpful. If you can explain the probability of
different dice rolling results, or how to print cards and components at home in a
short concise way, that’s an extremely useful resource for designers. Likewise,
if you can create a basic app for tracking design changes or creating
custom components for prototyping, I know plenty of designers who would benefit
from it. Even tangentially related topics can be tremendously helpful: if you know
a lot about a specific historical period, that can help designers looking to
design historically accurate games, while knowledge of various sciences can help
refine games with scientific themes. The main point to remember is that you know
information and can do things that others would struggle with, and helping
to simplify or teach those things to designers is a viable way for you to
contribute to your design community. Ask your fellow designers what kinds of
knowledge and resources they could benefit from and see if you have the
capacity to help fill those gaps. If you have technical writing expertise, offer
to help edit rulebooks or to spellcheck cards; if you know about medieval
weaponry, ask if someone designing a fantasy game wants advice for designing
weapon mechanics. You can help a novel or practical ways, but remember that
contributions to your community help to make everyone a better designer. Another
helpful thing to remember is that every game design
benefits from diverse perspectives and extensive playtesting. Playtesting with
your fellow designers is a great way to get feedback, but it’s also important to
remember that anyone with an interest in games can provide valuable feedback on
prototypes. And since prototyping events benefit from having plenty of potential
testers, I strongly suggest that designers encourage friends who are not
overtly interested in design to attend prototyping events to play prototypes. A
number of the events I have participated in over the years are open to anyone, and
some specifically look for non-designers to come play and give feedback on
designs. There are plenty of reasons why this is a good idea, including growing
the size of your community and having a large pool of potential testers with
diverse opinions and experiences. Tabletop game design is a niche within
an already niche hobby, and sometimes testing with only designers is difficult
simply because not many designers might be available at the same time and place.
But finding tabletop game players is a bit easier and designers will appreciate
getting as much feedback from as many people as they can on their designs. So
encourage your friends who aren’t designers – but who still love tabletop
games – to attend events and offer their feedback. Doing so will widen the pool of
potential testers in the community and strengthen your design community by
including more voices of people who know and love games. And since these players
could be potential buyers of your game in the future, getting feedback about
what is working and what needs work – while spreading the word about your game –
are great benefits. In anthropology, much has been written about reciprocity. It’s
a major concept that is far too expansive to cover in depth here, but we
can work with a basic definition for our purposes. In brief, reciprocity is the
idea that community members help each other with their skills, knowledge, and
resources, and in turn, community members can count on help from others when they
need it. This in turn produces a system where
everyone is sharing knowledge, skills, and resources with
everyone else, and therefore everyone gets taken care of. The game design and
prototyping process is a great model for reciprocity: you go to a playtesting
event to get people to try out your designs, but while you’re there, you also
test other people’s games as thanks or just to try new games and give advice.
And even when you don’t have a prototype you are currently working on, you’ll
still want to go to events to be a tester for other designers games, to talk
with them, share techniques and experiences, and just hang out with
people who share your interest in games and design. One way to really help out
your fellow prototypers is to test their games with the same attention to
detail as you use when you test your own designs. When you play someone’s
prototype, take notes, ask questions, and engage with the other players. The person
who is running the playtest will appreciate your enthusiasm and your
notes will help you to give even better feedback on their designs. And this will
likely mean that those other designers will be more open to taking a similarly
deep approach to testing your designs and spending more time discussing games
and design with you. Again, you should be contributing for the sake
of contributing, because you will grow as a designer just through the process of
helping others. Another thing you can do is to be willing to replay a prototype
while the designer makes changes on the spot. This approach works well, especially
for designers who are new to the process or who have new systems they’re trying
out, but it can be hard to find people willing to sit through the process of
changing mechanics and rules on the fly. Just try to be adaptable and open to
helping by being a sounding board for your fellow designers. And you don’t have to
wait for the designer to ask you to do this; you can suggest the approach if you
think you have ideas that they could benefit from. Just remember that in the
end the designer will have the final say on what works and what doesn’t for their
design. That brings us to the end of this series on Anthropology for Tabletop Designers
but that doesn’t mean that the discussion has to end here. Go ahead and
leave us a comment down in the section below if you have any other advice for
either community building or any of the other topics we’ve covered in this
series, or if you have questions about design, or if you just want to share your
own experiences and thoughts about anything relating to tabletop game
design. I’d also like to take this time to thank the community of Bay Area game
designers that I interviewed for this project, that I playtested with, and that
I got a chance to talk to and get to know, and who were so welcoming and so
willing to help and to provide their insights into game design. If it wasn’t
for them I literally could not have created this project, since everything
that I presented to you has been built off of all of their participation in
this project. If you’re a tabletop game designer and you enjoyed this series, let
us know in the comments because we’d love to make more videos about design
the future. And if you’re interested in anthropology in general, go ahead and
subscribe to AnthroView so you’ll get notified whenever we post new videos. But
until next time, may knowledge guide you! Thanks for watching

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