Jesse Schell’s Lenses of Game Design and Testers

When I’m not doing my professional tasks, one of the things I like to do is to play board games- things like Puerto Rico and The Castles of Burgundy. From time to time, I’ve dabbled with the idea of designing my own board game and it may one day happen, but so far, I’ve not had an inspiration or applied myself enough to getting one to bring a game to fruition. The main result so far has been that I’ve acquired several game design books which I pick up and look at from time to time.

One of these books is The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell. Like many game design books, this one describes itself as drawing from all sorts of games (including board, card, and athletic games) to provide insights into making video games. I’m still in the midst of reading it, but it seems to me that this book is just as useful to the design of any game but it’s the video game market that is the most lucrative to write a book for (the number of board game designers being quite small, and the number of board game designers who read books on game design probably being even small).

The book builds out a model of game design relating elements like the Experience, the Player, the Game, the Process, and the Designer with many other smaller elements. In the process, Mr. Schell details 100 different ‘lenses’ or viewpoints that can be used to examine a game’s design. These lenses can be seen (at least it titular form) at Jesse’s website. There is also a deck of cards available with a card for each lens, which I’m finding to be a useful addition, and an iOS app with all the cards that I just found out about but intend to keep in my toolkit.

While the book applies these rules to game design, as I’ve flipped through the book and the cards, many if not all of these lenses apply equally well to the concepts of testing software. In fact, the little informational sheet that comes with the cards describes the third step of game design (after think of an idea and try it out) as “Figure out what is wrong with it, and change it so it is better. Then go back to step 2.” This step is the one where the deck of lenses is geared, and the figuring out what is wrong with it action is something that software testers (like game playtesters) are doing all the time! Each of the lenses I’ve looked at could be expanded to the realm of testing most systems with just a few minor word changes (“player” to “user” perhaps).

In that vein, and with Mr. Schell’s blessing, I’m planning to write a series of blog posts on the lenses, applying each one to testing software. Watch this space (and if you like the idea of the lenses, go buy the book and/or the cards!)

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