GDC 2023: You Have No Idea How Hard It Is To Run A Sweatshop

I am speaking at this year’s GDC, and the talk will be something of a sequel to GDC 2010’s “Theme Is Not Meaning” (which was the lecture version of two Game Developer columns I wrote earlier that year). I reconstructed the talk from my slides and the recorded audio here:

In 2010, I argued that we need to stop assuming that a game’s theme provides its meaning and, instead, that meaning comes from the mechanics themselves. Since then, I have seen many people point out that we should stop referring to a game’s setting as its “theme” as the word “theme” should have a much broader, and more significant, meaning than whether a game is about “ancient history” or “an alien invasion” or whatever. Ideally, of course, a game’s setting should mesh well with its theme, but we need to stop conflating the two by being careless with our language.

This time around, I am tackling whether our games actually succeed at addressing their true themes and, furthermore, if we have any idea what we are doing as game designers. To be blunt, I’m swinging for the fences with this talk, am probably going to get out over my skis, and [feel free to suggest other sports-related disaster-prone metaphors in the comments]. So, if you want to see me likely crash-and-burn (or maybe pull it off), come to Room 2016, West Hall, on Thursday at 4:00. Hope to see you there!

Official GDC Description:

Can games teach us about our ourselves? Can a game be a statement about the world? Do we design games intentionally or accidentally?

This talk addresses these questions and much more—including Voros McCracken, Ottoman fratricide, fancy hats, Le Corbusier, nuclear holocaust, Mt. Rushmore, and the 1994 Caribbean Cup. Come find out how hard it is to run a sweatstop. Stay for a hopeful and skeptical look at how to make games that say what we want them to say.

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