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The tag receives a lot of mis-tagged questions, and seems to have a high number of closed/on-hold questions.

While I'm of the opinion that there's a larger issue of Game Design as a pursuit not being well understood or defined, I'm looking for feedback on how we might update the tag info to better guide users.

The current excerpt:

Game Design is the creation and balancing of game systems and mechanics. Not for programming questions about "design" of features, engines, etc. Not for visual design questions about the looks of assets.

Spends more characters talking about what it is not. But also that first sentence "creation and balancing", I think has a connotation of creation = development/programming. And possibly most users stop reading at that point.

I'm thinking that changing "creation" to something like "describing" or "documenting" would help. But I'm not sure and haven't been able to come up with something that's a significant improvement.

So I wanted to bring it to discussion here, instead of possibly making several small revisions. How can we improve the tag excerpt and description to reduce it's misuse?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ On Monday when I see my teacher ill get a really good description of game-design and post it here to help with the discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin William Stanley Bryant Jun 16 '17 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can certainly create mechanics without programming them. For example, "I would like to have a game where the player fights off monsters, so I'll want HP, different sorts of attacks and weapons the player can use--including long range and short range--and probably some special moves as well that require the player "power up" first by performing hit-combos." Already I've designed a combat system without writing a single line of code or producing anything else mechanical. But you're right that it is worded ambiguously. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Jun 16 '17 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The game-design tag receives a lot of mis-tagged questions, and seems to have a high number of closed/on-hold questions." I don't think the issue here comes from the tag description, but simply from the users nor reading the rules. There is not much that can be done, aside from closing the questions before they get answered, and moderate the tag usage a bit more (like you've been doing for the last couple of months). This does not mean that the tag could not be improved, though :) \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Jun 19 '17 at 15:50
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This is an ongoing problem I encounter in my work as a game designer - a lot of people, even in the industry, and even students well into game design programs themselves, don't understand what designers do. XD

So the term "game design" gets applied very loosely among gamers, developers, educators, and game media alike, serving as a catch-all for "doing stuff that contributes to a game" rather than clearly identifying its own specialized discipline.

The best definition I know is Liz England's The Door Problem, with its extensive array of examples of design problem solving, though that's hard to boil down to an effective tag summary. ;)

I think Pikalek is on the right track in focusing on decisions and rules. I'd be inclined to lead the summary with something like:

Game Design is the process of deciding the rules and mechanics of a game, and balancing them to achieve the intended play experience.

That last bit about having a target experience in mind is important - design is conscious creation. "Creating something without any outcome in mind is not design but experimentation" as Lehdonvirta and Castronova put it.

This also echoes Salen & Zimmermann's "The Game Designer only indirectly designs the player's experience by directly designing the rules"

I think the remaining tag summary should probably warn off common misconceptions, that the tag is not for questions about programming implementation/architecture or visual art / character design.


In the tag wiki I'd want to guide users toward asking well-structured design questions, because it's easy to stray into "too broad / primarily opinion based / unclear what you're asking" territory with these questions.

Taking a look through some of the better design questions I've come across in my time here...

These questions

  • Establish the context of the game in which the feature exists (genre, single/multiplayer, related features)
  • Explain the feature or mechanic whose design the user is struggling with
  • Define a desired outcome, or a problem/undesired result to overcome
  • Ask for strategies to adjust the rules or balancing to achieve that outcome

Which I think suggests a template worth providing for users who click into the deeper tag wiki (or to which we can link users who clearly didn't read the tag wiki and need help tailoring a clear, on-topic question)

Other types of design questions I've seen handled successfully:

  • Asking for definitions and clarity surrounding game design terminology (eg. What are affordances in game design?)

  • Asking about the rationale for common game mechanics (eg. What is the purpose of having lives?)

    (This last one I see as particularly high-risk for veering too broad/opinion-based, but it's led to some good Q&A in the past in some cases... I'm not sure whether there's any particular guidance to offer to help tailor these)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've taken a first stab at updating the tag summary & wiki to reflect the points above. Edits to both are welcome so we can improve them together. :) \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Jun 24 '17 at 12:00
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For starters, I revisited my design books & here's what I found:

Jesse Schell's definition from The Art of Game Design: "Game design is the act of deciding what a game should be. That's it."

Tynan Sylvester's definition from Designing Games: "Game design isn't code, art or sound. It's not sculpting pieces or paint game boards. Game design means crafting the rules that make those pieces come alive."

To me, this is basically what we currently have: game design is selecting & tuning the systems & mechanics and game design is not the implementation & assets for said systems & mechanics.

Maybe the root problem is that the tag is too meta. Certainly I think that an tag would be a meta. If design is everything that's not implementation, perhaps it's also a meta tag.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think game-design is meta. One can be expert in game-design. Maybe it is broad, but I think it has it's place here. \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Jun 19 '17 at 12:01

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