Game Design: Don’t Be Embarrassed

Anyone who has ever created something has felt uncomfortable showing it to other people. There’s an audacity to it, the idea that you could possibly make something worthwhile. Some people will try to convince you that you can’t, that you’re not qualified, or at least not as qualified as the known names in the field. Others will stock you up on reasons why you shouldn’t, many of which will focus on negative attention. If the world knows about this thing you’re doing, how will it reflect on you? What will people think? Don’t be embarrassed. Do it anyway.

It requires a great deal of hubris to call yourself a creator of any kind. What do you do?, they ask. “I’m a writer,” you say, or “I’m an artist.” You might get out in front of it and say, in a matter-of-fact fashion, that you’re a game designer. Just as they’ll ask a writer what they write, or an artist what kind of art they make, they’ll ask you what kind of games you design. After you convince them that you do not work in the video game field, and that you don’t create board games, you’ll fall back on the three words you were trying not to say: Dungeons & Dragons. Then you’ll clarify that the games you design are like D&D, but not really like D&D at all, but they at least know what D&D is so they have some inkling what you’re talking about.

Game Design: Don’t Be Embarrassed

There are few things I find as awkward as trying to explain what I do to people who have no concept of what I do. The only thing worse is explaining it to people who do understand. They usually have their own load of baggage to drop on you. Their preferred style of play doesn’t match yours. What you design isn’t the kind of thing they enjoy playing. They will be happy to tell you how they think it should work, because everyone who has ever touched a set of polyhedral dice thinks they’re a game designer, and that’s why they don’t take you seriously.

Most of the people you meet will never play your game. They won’t buy it. It’s likely they won’t even read it, even if you give them a free copy. They’re already invested in their own thing. So don’t sweat it. It’s not personal. My own wife doesn’t have any interest in most of my stuff, and we met each other in our weekly gaming group. Don’t let that stuff embarrass you, either.

The only person who needs to be happy with your game is you. Love it. Be passionate about it. Have so much joy in your heart for this thing that you’ve made that people can’t help but feel your enthusiasm. Be prepared to talk about it. Have an elevator pitch, to give them the basic feel of it. Tell them what they can do, as a player. Explain how it works, at a core mechanic level. When you do that, you start to find the people who love it and appreciate it for what it is. You’ll find the people who get it. You’ll know them, because they’ll make you feel comfortable. Don’t be embarrassed. They’ve got your back.

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