I have just taken the first of ten sections in Learning Game Design: as a job or a hobby. This is an online course that is similar to what Dr. Lewis Pulsipher would teach in a high school or college. It is a set of videos with what is essentially a slide show built into them. They last usually from three to ten minutes or so, so it easy to just dip into this for as much time as you have– a lunch break, say. The big catch here is that you can expect almost zero direct interaction with the teacher. What you gain in convenience, you lose in engagement. However, the price¹ is much lower than what you would expect to pay for a more traditional classroom experience.
Now… the usual snarky thing to say here is, “those who can, do… and those who can’t teach.” Ha ha. Now… Dr. Pulsipher has designed top 100 Hobby Game that just about single-handedly established a new genre of game in the process, so he has definitely proven himself in the “doing” department.² A lot of people have done that, though. Guys like Steve Jackson have even done it several times. But Steve’s mostly been tied up running a company the past thirty odd years. Who knows if he’s a decent teacher or not?! In contrast, Dr. Pulsipher has spent quite a bit of time in the classroom, so maybe he is uniquely equipped to take on this sort of thing. We’ll see: stay tuned for updates as I work through this.
You can certainly get a sense of what you’re getting into by checking out his convention talks on youtube and his posts on his blog. He does not deliver a well oiled sales pitch by any means.³ This is straight talk from a guy that routinely stomps on the illusions of the naive and the simple. He’s not rude about it and he doesn’t seem to take any particular pleasure from having to do it. He’s just patiently doing what he perceives to be his job. In the process, he also delivers a few good jabs at the fundamental misconceptions that are hard wired into our educational system. Basically, everything about this guy says “real world”, “practical”, and “not fake.” Though I’m only just now dipping into this, I can tell you that this is exactly the sort of person I would want teaching, developing, training, and mentoring my kids.
The central project of the course is taking one of your game design ideas, creating a prototype for it, and then playing it ten times and making improvements to it as you go. (Funnily enough… Jay Meyer was just on here saying to do exactly that.) Now there’s nothing stopping you from just going off and doing that on your own right now. But I can tell you from experience that game design is complicated. There are so many points where you can fail or get sidetracked. I’m betting that your chances of actually getting all the way through it with something more than a half-working prototype are much improved if you have somebody leveraging their own experience to prevent you from wasting time on common pitfalls. And note that while a lot of what he says here is buried in blog posts and so forth all over the web, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find something this comprehensive and concise anywhere else.⁴
So… whether you join up or not, I hope you dig into a game design project of your own in the coming months. It’s high time a few of us got past our dilettante stage and actually made something! (And those of you that have already plowed through thirty or so game designs of your own… carry on and god speed! You obviously don’t need a certificate for this…!)
Update: Here is series of posts detailing my progress through the class:
¹ I am in on this course specifically so I can review it, so I did not have to pony up the entry fee. (Merry Christmas, me!) The best I can do for you is to hook you up with a link that gets you $10 off. (Dr. Pulsipher tells me that it expires on February 28, so go ahead and pull the trigger soon if you’re interested. I don’t think he goes in for the deep discounting thing, so don’t think you can wait around for another holiday sale later on like you have to do with Lulu.)
² That was Britannia, which I hope to be playing at Prezcon next year.
³ The image on the course blurb does not include an image of a leering Dr. Pulsipher. There’s no leering anywhere in this thing. Also… there’s no dumb made up words: no “Gamerific,” no “Gameology”, no “Gambiquity”, no nothing like that. No sort of marketing department has been anywhere near this material. On the contrary, he is extremely careful with his terminology demonstrating an almost Euclidean degree of care when it comes to his core definitions.
⁴ If you don’t appreciate the value added by a good organization that synthesizes volumes of information with a sound didactic approach… then you haven’t tried to run a typical “classic” role playing game that doesn’t even have an index.