Christy Dena Interviews Eric Zimmerman

By | 4 May 2016

CD: What is something you are noticing new or emerging designers doing?

EZ: The best thing I see happening is that young designers are questioning all of the principles of “good design” that my generation of game designers tried to identify and establish. When I started working in game design in the 1990s, we didn’t have a language to talk about giving players clear and meaningful choices, or providing intuitive visual feedback, or tuning good game ‘feel,’ or balancing rewards and punishments for players, or making a deep connection between a player and a game character. We wrote papers and books, and argued at industry conferences and academic seminars, and this kind of design language for games did eventually emerge. But it was a hard-won battle.

And now, of course, all young designers want to do is break those rules. Which I find absolutely fabulous. We see more and more punk rock-style games that consciously or unconsciously overthrow ‘good design’ – games that are meant to frustrate without any reward, or games that limit player action to the point of absurdity, or designs that try and erase as much ‘game-ness’ as possible out of the experience. I see my role as a professor at the NYU Game Center as two-sided: I am there to teach students about the classical rules of good game design, and also to encourage them to question, bend, break, and refashion those ‘rules’ into something entirely new.

CD: Why do you create in different game and interactive forms? What is the philosophy of creative practice that drives this multi-disciplinarity?

EZ: It is very true that I am somewhat promiscuous as a game designer. I like making videogames, card and board games, and whatever other game experiments I can – such as the room-sized game installations I design with architect Nathalie Pozzi or games played by hundreds or thousands for conferences and events. Each of these kinds of games leads to collaborations with people from different backgrounds, new kinds of players to challenge and satisfy, and new kinds of design problems into which I can sink my teeth.

My main interest in games is inventing new forms of play. That might be new kinds of narrative play, or exploring systemic ideas like emergent complexity, or finding new cultural contexts where games can be played. I think I have a fairly restless sensibility as a designer and I think I’d feel stuck if I was designing in the same genre or for the same platform for years and years. That’s just me. I completely respect designers who want to go deep and explore a narrower set of design ideas in a more rigorous way.

I have a short attention span. I think I’d just get bored unless I was inventing strange new games to make.

CD: What is an unusual day in your life like?

EZ: A truly unusual day would be one that isn’t already over scheduled or planned in advance. I’m a bit of a workaholic and find myself constantly juggling more projects than I have time to complete. I savor having free time when I can just let my mind wander but those days are truly unusual – maybe just a handful each year. Your question makes me realise how much I need to re-engineer my life to get those moments back!

CD: What are three things that make you smile?

EZ: 1. Playing with dogs. 2. Seeing players do things with one of my games that I never ever could have anticipated. 3. Hearing the voice of my partner – her native language is Franco-Provencal – and she has an amazingly unique way of speaking.

CD: Looking forward, what are some things you’re looking to achieve in design?

EZ: If it’s not too presumptuous, here are some of my dream game projects:

  1. an artificial language whose only purpose is used to play a game of verbal sparring
  2. a new Olympic sport – highly athletic and highly strategic – inspired by structures from videogames
  3. a narrative digital game capable of infinite replayability (like Chess or Tetris)
  4. a real-time videogame that plays like T’ai Chi – extremely slow but requiring intense relaxation and focus
  5. a game that lets players be designers and also teaches the fundamentals of game design itself

CD: You see a box, that from your vantage point could be large or small. When you open it, what is inside?

EZ: It’s full of dice and pawns and marbles and stones and chips and pieces that I can use to prototype my next game.

This entry was posted in INTERVIEWS and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work: