Games are ancient, but the field of game design - in fact, the very idea that someone could create games professionally - is a relatively recent invention. Only a few decades after videogames began, we find ourselves at the start of a "ludic century," in which games increasingly define art, media, and culture.
This talk takes a hard look at the recent history of the still-emerging discipline of game design in order to identify a problem with how we talk about games, and how we understand what it means to design them. This problem is instrumentalization - the reduction of the ineffable quality of games to the measurable and scientific.
Instrumentalization is rampant among game developers - from the business side of games to the games for learning and social change communities, and even among mainstream game designers themselves. Instrumentalization prevents us from exploring games' full potential - it views games as efficient instruments for injecting or extracting data, rather than as an aesthetic form in all their complexity.
Getting past instrumentalization means being honest about how a design field like game design is different than other bodies of knowledge, such as a scientific field that seeks to uncover truths about nature. What are better ways of thinking about what we do as designers?
These questions may sound highly esoteric, but ultimately they come down to understanding the day-to-day, nuts and bolts practice of game design. And that is something that can benefit all of us.