The main theme of this series of articles has been how, by understanding the psychology of the gaming experience, we can create more powerful and meaningful experiences for players. But none of this understanding is of any use if we do not integrate it with our current design methodology. This, the final part of Games and the Imagination looks at some of the ways that we can use these new ideas to extend our games design concepts and to address difficult issues such as violence and the problems of using narrative in an interactive medium. These ideas represent only a few of the possibilities given by the Jungian approach, but in my view they are some of the most important and wide ranging. One of the most revolutionary ideas implied by this approach concerns genre, and implies that far from being the primary elements of games design, genres are in fact secondary and are encompassed by a much wider framework of ideas.
Fantasy and Genre
From time immemorial developers have divided games into distinct genres, such as the platform game, the RPG and the first-person-shooter. Although these terms are useful as a shorthand way of talking about games, their repeated use has lead them to be regarded as the primary elements of game design. This has created a very restrictive situation where many designers find it hard to see anything outside this limiting typology. The lack of wider descriptive terms forces a designer to see everything in terms of RPG or first-person-shooter, and to regard any widening of this language or the creation of a new genre as the result of some intuitive leap of genius.
But the concept of the imagination space gives us a way of overcoming this situation, a way of transcending the limits of genre by placing it within a much wider framework of ideas. In this new formulation, the primary framework is the underlying fantasy, the inner world or imagination space that the developer wishes to express in code. The developer does this by exploring the fantasy and finding particular technical devices and structures that can express it. Such devices include display techniques such as the isometric map or first person view, different types of control technique such as the point and click mechanism commonly used in the RTS and other complex structures and relationships involving multiple game objects. From this perspective, the different elements and devices that make up a game are a kind of language that is used to express an imagination space.
Certain devices work well at expressing particular fantasies, so they get used again and again often unreflectively, eventually becoming fused with the ideas they attempt to express, creating the idea of distinct genres. It would be a worthwhile undertaking, I think, to analyse a large number of games and explore how these common devices work together to evoke a particular fantasy or experience. Such an analysis would yield a large number of different building blocks and relationships that could be used independently of any particular theme.
Many developers make the mistake of focusing on these secondary devices rather than on the fantasy that they want to express. Separating the two is often very difficult, as a game designer's fantasy may contain elements of these structures. The trick is to notice the feelings associated with them, to take the primary images, feelings and themes of a fantasy and find or create the best constructional techniques to express them.