U Professors Discuss Game Design at Author Meets Reader Event


Adam Fondren

The Block U on the University of Utah Campus in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 12, 2017. (Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Mickey Gough, Copy Editor, News Writer


The Tanner Humanities Center’s Author Meets Reader series is off to a great start this year with C. Thi Nguyen discussing his book “Games: Agency as Art.”

The event was held on Sept. 7 and was a discussion between Nguyen, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Utah, and Alf Seegert, an associate professor in the department of English. They discussed the book and why people play games.

“The core of the book is this claim that games don’t just tell stories, they don’t just create environments, they create agencies for us,” Nguyen explained. “They create who we are, and they say who we care about. And so this says something for me about games. It’s why games are a special art form.” 

One of the main focuses of Nguyen’s book is about the nature of point systems and how they motivate people in games and our lives as a whole. 

Fiona Trinite, a U student studying English who attended the lecture, has always loved video games and after the lecture felt like they understood that love better. Trinite shared they have been playing Mario Kart lately and striving to get the best scores but didn’t understand why they enjoyed playing the game so much.

“And now I feel like I can put words to it,” Trinite said. “And that’s definitely a perspective change for me. Like, I know why I’m deriving joy from this.”

Nguyen argued game designers use point systems to tell people what to care about and that in a way manipulates our agency.  This can be fun, in the case of a game, but Nguyen said these point systems are used in our everyday lives like the grading system.  

Nguyen talks about the gamification of education in his Intro to Ethical Dilemmas class in a unit called, “Are Grades Bullshit?”  

“The first 20 minutes were, like, more like therapy than philosophy,” Nguyen said in a tweet about how class went during that unit. “Students were telling stories about how they used to love school and now they hated it, about having their curiosity burned out, about all the things they used to care about but have stopped.”

For some in the audience, this discussion of gamification was enlightening. Trinite talked about how this helped them explain why they were uncomfortable with gamifications.

“It finally, like, clicked in my brain, like, ‘Oh, this is my issue with like, everyone trying to make everything a game,’” they said. “It’s robbing games of, like, their true joy.”

For others in the audience, the lecture changed how they thought about the games they create. McKane Searle, a graduate student studying entertainment arts and engineering, said that as a game designer, they found the discussion regarding game design “really interesting.” 

“It was interesting, because I did not consider how point systems that I create affect my players …  it really helped me think about point systems and systems in general that are designed for completely different reasons.”

The next Author Meets Reader event will be on Oct. 6 from 1-2 p.m. with Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo.  


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