Over the past few weeks, I've realized that I enjoy working in the domain that I have become fluent in, but find it frustrating to untangle a new, unfamiliar system while simultaneously trying to build something with it. I like exploring permutations and connections, rather than untangling difficult puzzles. And I am able to focus much better and use my time more productively when I am doing something I like.
And all of this has helped me realize that I don't want to be a game programmer. I want to be a game designer.
I like to explain this in terms of the Explorer and the Achiever player type. I am an Explorer (or Seeker). Programming, or engineering in general, tends to be most rewarding for Achievers, not Explorers. Achievers feel a rush of pleasure and energy when they finally solve a difficult challenge. I, on the other hand, tend to feel relief rather than excitement. What I like is the part that comes afterward.
Here's a little story to help visualize the situation.
Imagine climbing a mountain. I'm part of a team of engineers, laboriously lugging a heavy load of code up the mountainside. It's hard going, and we have to keep our heads down, focus on keeping a solid footing, freeing our load from snags, climbing over or around the boulders in our way. All the while, we have to stay coordinated and make sure the whole team is making steady progress up the mountain. Our determination and caffeinated beverages keep us going.
But I tire of this more quickly than my companions, and often turn to look out, away from the rocks and mud and out to the valley below. Something about this valley excites me, in a way the challenges of the mountain never could. But I turn back, grudgingly, to my teammates who still depend on me to carry my share of the load.
Eventually, finally, we reach the summit. Cries of triumph can be heard from all around, and a jubilant energy fills the air. I, too, am excited - now, with all that hard work and preparation out of the way we can finally begin! I look out across the magnificent vista spreading before my eyes and the terrain comes alive with plans and possibilities. I see empires rise and fall, resources flow and networks grow.
Then, I turn back to see my fellow engineers putting the last load of code into place, heaped atop the mountain, waiting for the designers who will be arriving tomorrow morning. Time to head back down! We'd better be on our way if we want to reach the next mountain in time!
Wait a minute - we're leaving already? The fun part was just about to start. No - but the others have already started down the mountain, caffeinated beverages in hand. Can't wait to conquer the next challenge. I turn to follow, reluctantly, with one last wistful glance over the vista that had so captivated me earlier.
Just another day in the life of an engineer.
Achievers get a big rush of pleasure upon reaching the top of a mountain. The bigger and more difficult the mountain, the bigger the rush. Explorers, like myself, enjoy looking out from the top of a mountain onto the world below. Just drink it in. Getting to the top isn't pleasurable in itself, it just means that the fun can finally begin.
The more patterns, the more connections, the more fun. That's what being an Explorer is all about.
I guess that should give me an edge in the next Casual Gameplay Design Competition. The theme is EXPLORE! ;)