Putting together a map for game design research – My map

I started my academic career in 2003 and stepped into game research in 2005. For the past 8 years I have been trying to understand game development as a creative practice from several different angles. Years run so fast and as you eat, the hunger grows. From where I stand now, the field still seems so open: so many questions are unanswered and so much data is running through our fingers as we speak. Game development is constantly evolving and that is making this work exciting, yet hard.

When I started at the Game Research Lab at the University of Tampere in 2006, there were practically no academic publications on creativity techniques and game development – none that I could find. Even though I think that my presentation at the Game Developers Conference in 2008 was an exciting experience, I must admit that I was rather oblivious of all the details relevant to game design. For conducting a study related to creativity techniques and game ideas, the game design literature was not really helpful as the sections on creativity and ideas were thin – for a reason. If game idea and game development would have a Facebook relationship, it would read “it’s complicated”. But there is a relationship: it is filled with love and hate, highs and lows. It is on and off. What such best sellers as Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton or Rules of Play by Salen & Zimmerman can offer is not in the depths that a researcher needs in order to understand this delicate relation.


I just recently came up with a new working title for my PhD dissertation: A Treasure Map for Game Design Research. As my studies so far have been consisted of several interrelated, yet not systematically focused sub-studies it has been a struggle for me to try to put them together as a coherent whole. The ideal picture that I have been trying to form in my head has been too detailed and I am sure that I am not able to make it even in my lifetime.

Fortunately, the years have also pushed others to this direction and now the situation on the citation front is a bit easier. As with any subject, the publications are still rather scattered and not everyone reveals themselves in DiGRA conferences or on the Gamesnetwork@uta.fi mailing list, so I am sure there are several relevant studies out there that I know nothing about. But it is good to know that there are others working on this too.

For me, it is time to put things together and draw the map that has been forming during my adventures on game development. So far I have been interviewing over 150 game industry professionals of varying nationalities, conducted numerous design experiments, run several workshops and attended over 20 industry conferences around the globe. I am ready. No matter how sketchy the map will be, it will be.


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Game researcher, lecturer, designer and a jamtivist.

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