The Carnegie Rule of Game Design: 6 Ways to Make Things Interesting

Can advice remain useful after almost a century?
Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People back in 1936, and I've heard jokes about it for my entire life. The book gets thrown around as a cliché because it serves as a useful way to communicate. (If it wasn’t useful, people wouldn’t be citing it almost a century later.)
One of Carnegie’s rules says that if you want to be interesting, you should be interested in others. That’s helpful advice for game design.
Being interested in your audience can help you find ideas that resonate with them. An interest in psychology can find better ways to keep that audience engaged. Being interested in topics, methods, and concepts from other disciplines will improve your final product.
Here are 6 ways that being interested has led to more interesting games:
  • Be interested in travel. Xalavier Nelson Jr., an award-winning narrative director, created An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs after spending a lot of time in airports. In an interview, he explained that “when you spend that much time in airports, they break your brain.” (He also worked on Hypnospace Outlaw, which has been described as a flawless piece of historical fiction — much of its impact comes from an interest in 1990’s internet culture.)
  • Be interested in medicine. Jane McGonigal has designed alternate reality games and written two New York Times bestsellers. After she suffered a serious concussion in 2009, she faced lasting complications that meant a long and difficult road to recovery. McGonigal saw it as an opportunity to apply design theories in a new context, and the result was SuperBetter. It's a healthcare game that has been used by more than a million people fighting depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and traumatic brain injury.
  • Be interested in mythology. Emily Short created Counterfeit Monkey and Galatea, and she also helped build interactive fiction tools and procedural storytelling projects. Short used her knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman mythology to discuss how an in-game pantheon can create more interesting mechanics and enrich stories. More game design topics and techniques are discussed on Short’s blog.
  • Be interested in pioneers. Aaron Reed has received recognition for innovative narrative and story design, and he created Blue Lacuna, which is considered to be one of the top 10 interactive fiction titles of all time. In his 50 years of Text Games project, Reed has tracked the evolution of a genre and discussed how dynamic stories have connected with audiences across generations.
  • Be interested in dinosaurs. At a young age, Kim Belair’s interest in dinosaurs led her to Castle Infinity and formative experiences with one of the internet’s earliest multiplayer communities. She went on to write for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and contributed to Goodbye Volcano High, founding her own narrative development company. Belair’s limited history of Castle Infinity explains how her early online adventures have stuck with her.
  • Be interested in communities. You might have seen Victoria Tran playing Among Us on Jimmy Fallon’s Twitch stream. Tran is community director at Innersloth, and she has built healthy, engaged communities around video games by being interested in the players. Her work focuses on nurturing practical, more sustainable, and kinder online communities. 
Ultimately, your own work can be improved by studying the work of other designers. Game jams, competitions, and online events are a good way to see how people have solved common problems and taken new perspectives on familiar issues. One example is the Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction, which happens every April. 
The 2021 Spring Thing event has thirty-eight entries made by designers who are interested in 1970’s sci-fi shows, arcane mysteries, and other surprises. One entry even mentions Dale Carnegie’s book.
This post was originally published on the Bitterly Indifferent blog. 

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