My Mom, Game Designer by Richard Flanagan

My mom is the greatest game designer I know.

I have really come to love making games. As a medium it satisfies so many of my passions as a creator, touching on numerous aspects of design, and feeding my need to do just about all the things. Yes I'm a control freak, but moreso I just love getting my hands dirty in the whole process. I live to make stuff, it's why I get out of bed in the morning, it's what inspires me, and what keeps me up at night. Making things keeps me sane, happy, and ultimately helps be a better husband, dad, and human being. I've been fortunate enough to channel this love into a number of careers culminating in game design, and I really owe it to my mom for leading the way.

I was a lucky kid. What we lacked in material stuff, we made up for in creativity, DIY spirit, and improvised games that turned an otherwise normal life into a wondrous playground for imaginative little minds. There are countless examples of my mom elevating simple childhood activities to what would be become the building blocks of my creative process, but one example that I can always look back on and smile upon is toilet paper rolls.

Toilet paper rolls can be anything. 

Rube golberg-esque pachinko pinball marble machine taped to the wall? Yep. Paneled helmets and suits of armor to battle hordes of robo-dragon-beetles? No sweat. Binoculars? Come on, amateur nonsense. Add some mirrors and build an articulated-binocular-periscope so your 5 year old can look in two directions at once like a mutant-space-chameleon on a stealth mission to one of Jupiter's moons? Now you're talking.

One might argue that these were just crafts - but for me there were very real constraints and rule systems that formed the boundaries for play in a sandbox like environment. The end game was always 'build the raddest thing' but the journey was always just as fun (if not more).

My mom is also a masterful world and puzzle designer. The greatest gift that my sister I would receive on our birthdays (and sometimes Easter if she was inspired by a particular design idea) was a treasure hunt. At just the right moment of birthday festivities someone would come across the first of many clues and the hunt was on! Not only was each clue thematically tied to the party, but carefully designed to be decipherable but challenging for the age group at hand (a tricky task any puzzle designer will admit). And these treasure hunts had depth; often building in inspiring layers of meta-game by scattering pieces of crytpic treasure maps among the clues or peppering in coded endgame puzzles for us to decipher. Oh, and she'd hand paint these maps, often on pieces of scorched birch bark or some equally magical presentation, helping us kids become adventurers as we traipsed through the yard looking for the next clue or worked together to solve a word or arithmetic puzzle.

And all this time, through all this fun, I was learning through play. Learning what one needs to build a convincing world, learning how to design a puzzle that is just hard enough but not frustrating, learning how to look at an everyday object and seeing the potential to be something totally different. But fundamentally, through practice and observation, I was really learning how to make & design games.

I am an OK game designer, I was an OK graphic designer & an OK art director in my previous career in advertising and design. It's fine that I am OK at these things, because what I've come to learn, over many years of highs & lows of my creative career, is that I am great at the making part of making stuff. There are few things more exciting to me than a blank page or an empty screen. Of course I don't always make rad stuff (in fact, the good stuff is the exception here, and it's not the point), but the journey of making it always is.

I feel super lucky to have grown up in an environment that fostered creativity, and I'm trying to do the same with my two super cool little girls. I developed this creative bravery by playing with and building worlds and games made by my mom, the greatest game designer I know.