"My paper game design is mostly for fun these days, because there is not nearly that gap between what I want from paper games and what is out there. A game I have designed recently just for fun is Cosmic Hearts, which is hearts where each player gets their own power." (The title honors the boardgame Cosmic Encounter, the principal design influence on Magic.) "Another is Barbubu, which is barbu, but with a lot of special mini-games and mini-game modifiers.

"Online, I am playing Astral Tournament and Quadradius, two games that delightfully meet my requirement of having a lot of luck and skill. Offline, I am mostly playing traditional card games like bridge and poker, and variants of my own making. I am enjoying watching my kids explore the world of games and seeing them benefit from all the covert educational values you would expect of the intellectual analogue of sport."


Again, it's hard to find a context in which to assess Garfield's achievement. It would be neat to say, "He's just another designer who created a groundbreaking game, then made millions, lived a calm and balanced life, and helped enhance the importance of games in society" - as though that were the expected script, instead of "Start a personal fiefdom, put your main squeeze in charge and squander your profits."


In lifestyle terms, upcoming game designers have few role models either wise or foolish. Some game developers want to be treated like rock stars. Yeah, right. If you want that, don't propose to your wife through a card game. In character we don't quite match any other profession or pursuit, and no particular behavior is expected of us.

The media present Will Wright, Sid Meier and other Game Gods strictly in terms of the games they designed and the fortunes they earned. We know Richard Garriott has a mansion with secret passages, but otherwise we know little of these creators' personalities, let alone their life choices. Likewise, published interviews with Garfield haven't addressed his success in terms of personal character.

Yet a teenager today, ambitious to make a life designing games, could do much worse than say, "When I grow up, I want to be Richard Garfield." Sometimes I feel that way myself, and I'm older than he is.

We can learn more than just design lessons from his example: the importance of clear goals, a focus on the player's experience, willingness to guide rather than control and the elevation of good sense over ego. These, among others, are the nerd virtues, the gamer's path to knowledge. As yet, we have no phrase for this concept. "Nerdcore"? "Geek Chic"? Uh, no.

Still, we should articulate this idea and encapsulate it in a word. People can grasp a word; they can define their careers around it, and they should. However awkwardly it matches society's definition of "cool," Garfield's career shows unusual grace, a condition to which we all can aspire.

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay and Looking Glass.

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