Designer’s block

Do game designers get writer’s block, or some equivalent thereof? I’m very curious how you other designers, hackers, and homebrewers experience this (or not). Me, though? When I get stuck on a game, it feels like the exact opposite of writer’s block.

With writer’s block, I just stare at the page blankly, trying like hell to figure out where to go next, wandering off to be distracted by the internet, jotting notes for unrelated things just to exercise my word-building muscles. When I’m having trouble finishing a game, though, it’s because I have too many ideas, too many ways of resolving the same design problem, and no good outlet to definitively choose between them.

The all-too-frequent result of this feeling is a lot of abandoned projects. If I feel stuck on something, and I know I won’t be able to get it to the table to test it for another four weeks, it’s very tempting to just bang out some other small game in the meantime. Once that game reaches a certain point, though, I hit some new design problem, get blocked in the same way, and move on yet again. I end up leaving a trail of almost finished games behind me.

I’m trying to challenge this habit with Exhumed, though. I have been blessed with a group of players more invested in seeing where the campaign goes than in sticking with any one rule system, so they’re happy to try new things and offer lots of feedback. Knowing that I will be running this game for these people has been the motivation I’ve needed to focus on it when I have five other game ideas competing for my attention. I may put some more words on paper for those other games too, just to get them to stop distracting me so darn much, but I feel very committed to solving Exhumed‘s design problems. And knowing that there’s soon to be a game jam around the theme of “rebirth”—while I happen to be working on a game featuring frequent death and resurrection—may provide some extra motivation to get a draft feeling more done by the end of March.

I’m hoping that since designer’s block doesn’t also involve writer’s block for me, I can use blogging as a way to untangle some tricky design issues. If anybody who’s read this far into this post has other suggestions for getting past designer’s block, though, your comments are especially welcome.

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