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design fiction at ground level

Started by droqen, May 28, 2022, 11:30:32 AM

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I can write anything I want.

This is a problem in the field of game design.

It's hard, at a distance, to tell what is fiction and what is reality.

  • A team of four friends are going to get funding for and make a low-key MMORPG. This is their second game together, but they'll make it work, and the game will release and be successful - perhaps only modestly so, but enough that they can make a third game together.
  • An individual is going to make a game about mental limbo, but it won't tell you that, and it won't actually tell you damn near anything, but there will be a correct way to play and lots of things to uncover in directions you had not even thought to look. It will be wildly successful and beloved in some circles.
  • One person can make a 10-hour videogame.
  • One person can make a 100-hour videogame.
  • One person can make a 1000-hour videogame.


It is very easy to come up with game design fiction. It won't necessarily be good game design fiction, but take any two genres or game mechanics or feelings, put them next to each other, and boom: game design fiction. Here are some examples:

  • A platformer where every time you jump, you lose health.
  • A game where you can eat anything that's smaller than you, but every time you eat something, you get smaller. ("Reverse Katamari")
  • ... For that matter, a game where every time you beat a boss, you get less powerful and can traverse less of the world. ("Reverse Metroidvania")
  • An MMORPG where everyone is always at the same power level, rather than some players being significantly more powerful than others.
  • Games without combat or violence.
  • A game that can make you cry.


It is very easy to come up with obviously impossible game design fiction, or in other words, fiction which cannot, under any circumstances, actually be resolved by design into reality.

  • A game of tic-tac-toe played on a 3x3 grid, where someone wins by getting 4 in a row.
  • A game with 10, 000 hours of bespoke content, created in a weekend by one person.
  • A game which causes anyone who plays it to laugh non-stop for the rest of their short life, until they die of laughter-induced asphyxiation.
  • A game that cures cancer.


All design fiction lies on a gradient between 'it would practically design itself' to 'it is a literal impossibility to design', and there is a lot of great game design fiction out there just dying to be explored. Along this gradient, we have games that would take 10 hours to make, 100 hours to make, 1 million hours to make. Design is also a process of exploration, of trial and error -- it's difficult, even impossible, to make a judgement about whether all possible avenues have been exhausted. There is always room for an ever-dwindling hope that just around the next corner there is some great thing we haven't tried yet which will actually work this time.


I said above that design is a process of exploration.

I would like to add that design generally relies on design fiction.

These are not separate fields. In order to do design, you must be capable of developing hypotheses about what doesn't exist yet, but which might be worth bringing into existence. All design starts as design fiction.