What is Game Development?

Hello again everyone.

This last week, I was asked a question I haven't ever personally considered. It's a question that, at it's core, seems like something everyone becoming a game developer should ask. And yet, it's a question that has slipped my mind until someone else asked me.

The question was: what is game development?

My mind spun when I was asked this. It's such a simple thing, isn't it? Game development is something that I just thought everyone understood. Then, as I was trying to reply, I had to stop and ask myself the same question. What IS game development?

Game development covers a plethora of skills and fields, and the type of game being developed and the skills of the person or persons developing it will change the skills that are required. So, to fully answer this question, we have to take one more step back, and ask ourselves a different question: what is a game?

This question seems even more absurd. Everyone knows what a game is! But do they? A quick google search shows a definition of "game - an activity engaged in for diversion or amusement." Well, I guess that's technically correct, but that definition is incredibly vague. With that definition, any activity from watching a movie to reading a book could be considered a game. I once heard, though I can't for the life of me remember where, game defined as "an interactive activity", and I like that definition better. One of the beautiful things of games is that they can't exist without an audience. A book will say the same thing weather it is read or not, and a movie can be played on a loop like groundhogs day, but a crucial element to a game is the players. 

So, now that we kind of have an idea as to what a game is, we need to know what developing a game is. Now, the easy answer is to say that game development is the crafting of an interactive experience, but if you think that's a satisfactory answer, I need you to go back to Skynet and say you've been caught. We want to know what a game developer does that makes them different from an author, a director, or a painter. While this could be incredibly complicated, we can boil it down relatively simply.

Most games have two parts: an engine and a setting. To make things extraordinarily simple, lets take a look at Candyland. It may seem like a silly example, but I decided on Candyland for one reason: It's incredibly easy to break down into it's two parts. The setting behind Candyland is... well, Candyland, a world made of and inhabited by sweets. This governs the art and tone of the game. The art has a cartoon aesthetic, and the tone of the game is lighthearted. Players play children attempting to travel to Candy Castle, though I don't know that we are ever given a motivation to do so. The engine is the way players draw cards to move their characters to the colored spaces along the board. Different spaces can be inhabited by candy characters, each of which can have a different effect when a player's piece lands on it. These two parts of the game are combined into a single experience, which admittedly starts to lose it's luster once you learn the skills of critical thinking.

So, now that we have all these pieces identified, we can finally start to see what game development is. Game development is taking an engine, that on it's own is bland and mechanical, and a setting, which on it's own may or may not be able to tell an interesting story, and turning them into a single system, where players can't imagine one without the other.