Bruno Cathala designs games with some of my favorite mechanics: secret traitors and deduction (Mr. Jack has a permanent place in my top 50). He also designs party games (Dice Town), strategy games (Cyclades), Euro games… versatility is a hallmark of his. When he sent me his essay (which I attempted to translate as best I could from French) I was surprised at how introspective it was. Most designers discuss their craft and their love of game design; Cathala expounds on the meaning of life. Enjoy: this essay is special.
Why I Design Games
It has been nearly 10 years since my first game was published, but although I began designing games late in life, my creative muse had long been looking for a way to break free. Comics, music, songs, literature, painting; since childhood, I seriously attempted all of these disciplines, but it was ultimately through the creation of games that I managed to open that door to creativity.
My university curriculum involved rigorous mathematical and scientific training and left little room for improbable dreams. Throughout those years I would often wonder about the powerful, latent forces that tried to push me down the path of creation. That introspection has, over the years, led me to understand and accept the motivations behind my journey into game design.
There are three of them.
The first motivation is that I’m easily bored. As a child, I would get bored super easily. Really. Spending time with family and friends that I liked; during my studies; and also at work, I would be bored. In fact, in groups of people the feelings of boredom would be strongest. So, to avoid this, as far as I can remember, I would tell stories. I would make up stories where I was the improbable hero (although often unhappy) or where I was a neutral bystander. This tendency towards boredom was a wonderful catalyst for creating stories. And now, designing games allows me to focus those storytelling skills.
My second motivation for designing games is my shyness and fear of what others think. I liked the child that I was as well as the adult I have become (well…this remains to be seen fully). Yet I have always worried about what others thought of me. This fear, so deeply rooted, is one of the reasons why I try to put myself out there, publicly. When I go on stage at the theater or when one of my games appears in stores, I experience the reactions of dozens of people, people who I do not know personally. The theater audience is reacting to me; the game reviews and testimonials on the Internet are about my games. Paradoxically, this makes me even shyer. But creating games has become a way for me to communicate with many, many people whom I never would have dared to try and speak with otherwise.
Finally, my third motivation for designing games is my fear of death. I find the transience of life just… unbearable. A day does not go by that I don’t think about it. Creating games is a way around this, a way to leave a trace of myself behind. Yes, this is ridiculous, and clearly too ephemeral, but I will survive for at least some time. I can imagine that a few years after my death, strangers will still be sharing moments of fun with my games. I can imagine that two or three generations later, my descendants will have this trace of me, the great-grandfather they never knew, and that comforts me…at least a little! And besides, designing game rules is a way to ignore the “rules” in this game of life that society tells us we should be playing.
Creating games is ultimately fun, although it isn’t just a hobby that I’ve had some success with: it is a way of life. Game design holds the answers to my fears; it solves the problem I have with communicating with others; and it fulfills my need… to simply be loved.
~ Bruno Cathala