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Depends on what you mean by "game designer"... ;)

I think it's definitely worth considering, given the aforementioned devaluing catch-all of 'game designer'. Though think it's worth keeping that designation around, if it could possibly be narrowed back to denote something specific. 'Play engineer' seems to suggest the role of someone who is attending to the specific details of game balancing and refinement on a concrete level, as opposed to 'game designer' which sounds far more general (and vague).

Is it just me or does "Play Engineer" conjure up pictures of a semi-seedy magazine with all sorts of gadgets and tech in it. Headlines like "iPod Uncovered", or "The New GeForce Stripped Bare". Don't forget the circuit board centrefold.

And bin men are domestic sanitation executives. Maybe I'm jaundiced (the Institute of Electrical Engineers has been discussing the devaluing of the term 'engineer' for at least the last 20 years) but... why? 'Game designer' adequately expresses the role of designing a game. One might choose to specialise that for subroles - 'gameplay designer', 'level designer' and so on.

Or go down the IEE route, get a Royal Charter, set up the Institute of Game Designers, and ensure that you set a barrier to entry to the profession of being a 'Chartered Game Designer'. Don't forget to charge at least £100/yr to MIGDs, more to FIGDs, and more again for C.GD status.

I agree with Peter that "Engineer" has lost weight, as has "game", I suggest we re-focus on the essence of our medium, play, and follow with a gerund that synchs how we operate within our medium. I believe design is a much better term for creating play experiences than engineering. I propose "Play Designer" as a title. Same form, just as many syllables, much, much cooler.

My other options would be "interactive storyteller" or "poetic terrorist", but they're not so marketable.

It's interesting to hear opinions on this.

In answer to Peter's question, there are numerous reasons why 'game designer' has become a problematic term. No particular order is implied.

1. The term 'designer' has strong implications in art - and consequently there is a confusion (mostly with people outside of games) as to what a 'game designer' does, and the assumption is often that this is a visual role.
2. People (especially people imported into the game development process from movies) like to claim a 'game designer' credit as a "premium credit". Or, to put it another way, people involved in *content* decisions are claiming *game design* credits, thus devaluing the very meaning of the term.
3. The 'game' in game designer appears to blind many game designers as to the scope of their emerging role. For years, we have been focussed on the highly ludic elements of play. It now seems abundantly apparent to me that this subset of play is a narrow channel, well loved by game designers themselves (and anyone of similar temperament) - but insufficient to the task of designing for a wider audience.
4. Related to 3, games like Nintendogs, Animal Crossing and The Sims demonstrate that games spread into 'toyplay'; the common element of the role currently designated by game designer begins to include the role of interactive toy designer. The common element is play.
5. Even inside game design, there are several roles which constitute 'game design' all of which are currently called 'game designer' but which perhaps could use some clarification. For my take on this, see

I like Patrick's suggestion to step less far from the tree with 'play designer', but I agree with Jack that perhaps this designates a particular role. I'm not sure the role in question properly exists yet. :)

I don't think the termite infestation is so bad that it's quite time to torch the 'game designer' house, but I feel it is useful for us to try on new terminology in the great linguistic wardrobe from time to time. You never know what might be lurking in there!

I think the term "play" is too vague. Are we talking here about the control? (I'm sure "control artists" should eventually become very important as videogames evolve.) Or are we talking about the game rules, which are often inherited from other games (as it should be)? I know no one's going to agree with this, but the terminology I personally use is "gamist" for the person who creates the content the rest of the game revolves around (game rules for low-level games, story for adventures, world design for exploration games, etc.) and "developer" for the people who do all the other parts of a game that hold the real content up (programming, art design, music, etc.).

You're right in seeing a problem in the lack of universal terminology, but the bigger issue is that none of us will agree on what sort of heirarchy should be used for game creation. Without any funamental agreement on even what games are, how can you expect anyone to agree on the terminology to use?

PLAY and GAME are two different things. PLAY is the act of instinctively performing gratuitous actions. It is when a person does something without utility for reasons unknown (or at least subconscious) to them. GAME is a more specific form of PLAY, where the same instinctive performance takes place, but the gratuitous action which occurs is the introduction of gratuitous difficulty (in the form of rules or imagined obstacles), and the introduction of a quantifiable outcome (win/lose, point systems). I cannot think of a single video game that does not in some way involve rules, obstacles, and outcomes. Videogames are PLAY, but more specifically, they are all GAMES. In other words, all videogames are PLAY, but not all PLAY is videogames. The title "play engineer" implies that forms of play outside of games might be involved. The word "PLAY" within the title "PLAY ENGINEER" is too general of a term to be appropriate. I'm not sure of what a better term for "game designer" might be, since I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "game designer" or how the term has been inflated. Also, as someone else mentioned, the term "engineer" is losing its value. On top of that, the term "play engineer" immediately made me picture a Chucky Cheese employee.

"I cannot think of a single video game that does not in some way involve rules, obstacles, and outcomes."

But how much does this say about the *potential* of videogames, compared to what this statement says about how you choose to think about videogames? I cannot conceive of *any* activity which cannot be modeled with rules, obstacles and outcomes. Why, then, choose this model over another for games?

As for fundamental disagreements as to 'what games are', perhaps see my upcoming post on Wittgenstein's 'language games'. Or my previous post on the Shadow of Plato (which is a bit of a mess, I'm afraid).

Still getting interesting ideas out of people from such a basic starting proposition. Truly language is amazing. :)

In addition to my last post, as well as in response to Chris' point on "toy play", the shift towards freeplay in games is most definitely something worth pursuing, however, as things stand now, even the most paidic videogames are still to a large degree ludic in nature. The obstacle to implementing freeplay into videogames is that the deciding factor on what kind of play is occuring is the player. The player can choose to interact with "toyplay" software in any allowable fasion they choose, and due to the nature of paidia, in most cases this will quickly dissolve back into ludic terms. The fact is that a completely paidic system, if that's even possible (and not oxymoronic), will not likely generate much lasting interest in the gaming community simply because nearly every aspect of our society is filled with either ludus or things that are not play. Society in general focuses on the elimination of paidia and all things non-utility, which is a shame. I'm not meaning to sound all hopeless and pessimistic, but I'm not sure if a rules bound medium such as videogames will be able to reverse the fortunes of paidia. However, a LESS-LUDIC form of play should be an aim of the industry

"A less ludic form of play should be an aim of the industry."

Well said!

Ever since you mentioned Chucky Cheese, I haven't been able to get the 'Fun-gineers' out of my head.

"We're whalers on the moon, we carry our harpoons, but there ain't no whales so we tell tall tales and sing a whaling tune."

Ah, such priceless lunacy. :)

: )
If you couldn't tell from my brash statements and end-all definitions, I'm pretty new to this whole gaming theory thing. I honestly don't even know what the hot topics and debates are right now. If you have any suggestions on sources to check out, I'd appreciate your advice. In particular, I'm interested in any models of an apparatus between players and videogames, whether they be narrative-based, ludological, or both. Thanks : )

You ask for everything and I have nothing! :)

All I can suggest is go fishing and see whose writing engages you. There are infinite directions at the moment, and I have no desire to promote factionism.

Other guests here at Only a Game may be much more willing to point in directions, however! Anyone want to make a helpful suggestion?

Permit me to bid you welcome! My blog represents a point on the borderlands between philosophy and game design, a point rather infested with squirrels from time to time. :) You are welcome here, as is anyone who engages in polite discourse. I hope we can be entertaining since we cannot promise to be enlightening. :)

"a LESS-LUDIC form of play should be an aim of the industry"

"Well said!"

I am all for Toyplay, but let's not forget, in spite of personal preferences (and I feel like playing Devil's advocate), that ludic forms of play can also be very good sometimes. Plus, they are two extremes - most of the best things are in-between them.

And I like "Play Designer", although "Play Engineer" could make me look more respectable :) I have no problem with "Game Designer", though. "Interactive Designer" would do just fine too.

But read his carefully chosen words. Not 'the goal' but 'an aim'. It's not that we have to give up more ludic play - those forms are safe, and will survive as niche markets perhaps indefinitely. But we need to find new forms of play - and that's a worthy aim.

I'm not anti-ludic, I'm pro "whatever we don't yet have". :)

I told you I was playing Devil's advocate: I couldn't agree more with both of you (as you can see from the name of my website) :)

Coming back to this late... Chris, I'll take your initial points 1-5 in order.

1) Similarly, an "engineer" is the bloke who fixes your car, not the person who designs engines - a term that is also much restricted from its original meaning and its original links with ingenuity and so on. Which audience are you aiming for here? Non-gamers? Is there, perhaps, a sniff of ego-massaging that is inappropriate in a world of ego-less game development? :-)

2) 'Twas ever thus. Should we engage in the arms race, twisting language further and further from its original meaning and forever changing the mapping between the term and its referent as we try to stake out *our* little piece of the intellectual landscape?

3) Take your point entirely. Interestingly, the response on this list has tended to the idea that 'play engineer' is a narrower term than 'game designer'. How about a credit of 'making sure the damn thing's fun, balanced and attractive to its intended audience'?

4) That raises a perhaps naive question: What is the difference between a game (envisioned as a whole - "Monopoly" would be an example) and a toy (again, envisioned as a whole - "a gyroscope plus its string and a tower to balance it on" would be an example)?

5) Clarification so that the scope of the roles is clear, or so that Douglas Adams' "de-mar-bloody-cation" is clearly taken into account by the game studio during development?

[removes tongue from the cheek into which it appears to have become firmly wedged by virtue of some of this message]

All terms are perpetually in flux; I find no harm in exploring possible pathways from time to time. :)

(And let me re-iterate that the question was intended to explore the space between the two terms, not to advocate one over the other.)

Although there are no absolute definitions, I place the boundary between toy and game to be at a degree of performance. If there's a degree of performance (score, success/failure, or a theatrical performance for that matter c.f. an RPG), I call it a game. If not, I call it a toy.

The mapping between term and referent is not a sacred thing. Even the "original" meaning of a word has been arbitrarily assigned. It would be great if we could just use one of Plato's ideal forms to convey a message to someone, but instead we're stuck with random symbols that everyone disagrees on the meanings of. The words themselves mean squat, but by discussing them, we eventually begin to actually agree on what meanings we assign to them, and if we are all on the same page, then we can look past the language and possible see the ideas behind it. Think of it as semiotic Buddhism.

Okay, that clinches it. I have to get that post on language games together. Thanks for this comment - it made me smile! :)

"The mapping between term and referent is not a sacred thing"

Zork@ meh si me z00123 t! ms u ! us

(Translated: True, but if I use my own terms you don't necessarily understand me)

Communication requires agreeing on terms. This agreement is helped if the mappings change slowly, as the communicating population is likely to have a less widely skewed set of terms for the same referent (or, indeed, referents for the same term). Witness the speed at which slang terms change - I think Chris was in Manchester around the time "bobbins" first came into circulation (as in "that's bobbins"). Its meaning inverted over around a year, from "good" to "bad", and then reverted to "good" over about the next five years. Utterly confusing.

I agree that "Play Engineer" sounds a bit like you are playing at being an engineer.

Carrying on the latin theme - Luditect? I'm not sure if that's formed properly or even makes sense, but it's quite catchy and we all know that's the important thing.

I still don't know what you mean by "game designer"! :)
But apparently the term shouldn't be related to the content of the game. Only to its form then? To the interaction? But shouldn't the form, the interaction be the thing that expresses the content?
And what is the content anyway? Is the content of a Rembrandt painting the people portrayed in it? Or is the content all the subtext that he mixed in to the delight of his audience?

I'm reluctant to provide a definition for game designer, as this would seem to undercut the point of this discussion! However, my piece 'A Model of Game Designers' ( provides a description from my own perspective.

From my point of view, the content of the Rembrandt painting is indeed the people portrayed in it. The artistry, in this instance, is expressed in how that content is rendered. This is a nice example, because the 'old masters' rarely got to choose their subject - which has a particular parallel with game design. :)

So now you're turning the game upside down. Rather than finding a good name for a specific job, now we have to guess what a person with a certain job title does?

Allright. Here it goes.

It strikes me that the words game and play have a relationship to each other that is similar to that of the words designer and engineer.

If the word designer is unclear in the context of games, let's look at what it means in another context. A chair designer is the person who decides on the shape of the object of the materials it will be made of. He will most likely consider the behaviour and bodies of humans when making his decisions. A chair engineer would then take these instructions and find a way to execute them, keeping in mind the laws of nature.

A game, in the common use of the word, is a well defined set of rules. To play is an activity that can take place within these rules. Or to play is to "execute" the rules, much like the engineer executes the instructions.

In the common uses of the words, the designer is an artist and the engineer is a technician. And a game is a set of rules while to play is an activity. "Game designer" and "play engineer" could not possible be titles for the same job.

If we want to make a comparison with the old masters, we could think of the example of ateliers where the apprentices do a lot of the execution (engineering) based on the instructions of the master (design). As it happens, in those days, the "designer" was also an excellent "engineer".

So do we think 'designer' is always used in an artistic context (temporarily excluding 'game designer' from consideration)? I confess, I cannot think of a counter example!

The atelier example is interesting, but in analogue I feel it overvalues the game designer's role. It gives them leadership; it should be giving them the role of counsel. I need to think further on this.

Well, we still have some thorny problems to unravel, but I think we can safely say that 'play engineer' is now completely bankrupt.

Thanks to everyone for totally destroying this term! :) I feel the discussion has been worthwhile, even if we haven't reached any firm conclusions.

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