30 Things This Blog is About (#6: Gaming Psychology)

Gaming fascinates me, no surprise there. What I find the most interesting, though, is how it makes people think. For centuries, interactive media has been limited to sports and certain relatively rare forms of verbal storytelling and theatre. What video games have introduced is a new way to entertain ourselves, which requires a new way of thinking. We have long made games out of tasks, and I find it fascinating how games straddle these two core human tendencies– play and storytelling.

On top of this, games themselves leverage the way our brains work in a number of creative ways. When I first got interested in game design, I was convinced that the psychological tricks and behind-the-curtain sleight of hand in games was intentional, and fully thought out by the game’s developers. Once I spent time in the industry, I discovered that this was not necessarily the case, at least not consciously. The psychology of games is a sort of intuition among many developers, rather than an explicit set of goals.

My education taught me to codify these sorts of things, and so it’s interesting to me that this intuition among devs and unspoken expectation among players exist in a sort of ephemeral state, understood but rarely spoken of. As I can, I’m interested in trying to put words and thoughts behind these intuitions, to better structure the ideas that make great games.

30 Things This Blog is About (#5: Infinity: The Game)

Warmachine (and Hordes, its sister game) filled a niche for me among miniatures games, and I developed a love for it. When I moved from Austin and stopped playing it, I eventually found myself at loose ends; I didn’t know anyone locally who played (partly because at the time, the game was preparing for a rules revamp and thus enthusiasm for it had ebbed) but found myself looking for a group.

What I found instead was a different minis game, Infinity, which is a futuristic sci-fi-themed game which was also (at the time) fairly new and just picking up. It’s a game from Spain, and its rulebook contained a whole lot of fiction that I found fascinating– science fiction from a European (specifically, Spanish) perspective. I loved the future world the game created and the diversity of its minis, and wound up getting into it with some of the locals in my area. I found a vastly different game from the Warmachine/Hordes I was familiar with, and the new mechanics along with the fascinating fiction hooked me.

Now, I play both Infinity and Warmachine/Hordes, but they fill different niches in my hobbies. I like the blend of tactics playing both games exposes me to, and it’s been exciting to watch both games evolve over time. If I play anything competitively, it’s miniatures games, and I’ve participated in tournaments for both games quite a bit at this point.

30 Things This Blog is About (#4: Warmachine/Hordes)

When I was in middle school, I and a couple of friends got somewhat into Warhammer 40000, a game of space marines played on a tabletop with dice and rulers. We never really understood the game at any level, and played with some half-understood amalgam of rules. Really, we just liked collecting the miniatures and painting them.

Flash forward ten years, and I found myself in a new city (Austin, TX) having graduated college. I had relatively few friends, knew next to no one in the area, and I met someone who would become a close friend who introduced me to a game that was (at the time) relatively new – Warmachine. It reminded me of the 40k games I’d once played, but the world that was crafted for the game was much more compelling to me. I played it avidly with my friends in Austin, and only stopped when I left for a new city.

I find the game compelling because it’s a game about planning and execution, with enough randomness to keep things interesting. It also is a game that extends beyond the tabletop, where painting and planning play a major role. It offers the deckbuilding concepts that I love in games like Magic without the need to micromanage probabilities to the same extent, which I can do but don’t find terribly compelling.

I’ve recently gotten back into the game, and I find it fun to catch up on everything that’s happened since my lengthy hiatus.

30 Things This Blog is About (#3: Tabletop RPGs)

At the same time that I was young and struggling with Lagoon (see #2 of this series), there was the big Dungeons and Dragons scare, where sensational media blamed Dungeons and Dragons for a laundry list of society’s ills. My mother, being curious and responsible, went to a bookstore one day to see these D&D books for herself. She didn’t really comprehend them, but what she saw suggested to her that they were harmless and that, moreover, her son (me) would be interested in them.

I found myself with a random smattering of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books and absolutely no idea what they were for. I recently unearthed the collection, and it’s entirely haphazard– Player’s Option: Spells and Magic, Legends and Lore, Tome of Magic, Book of Artifacts, The Complete Wizard’s Handbook, The Complete Book of Elves, and most importantly, the World Builder’s Guidebook. I devoured them all with fascination, even though the point of it all wasn’t really clear to me.

What was crucially missing from the set was a Player’s Handbook, something I didn’t even know existed and thus didn’t know to ask for. I wouldn’t see a Player’s Handbook for another decade. Instead, what I had was a massive repository of information and help in building and populating worlds, and so that’s what I did. I wrote and mapped and thought about endless fantasy worlds, from the embarrassingly derivative to the (at the time) unique. The idea never occurred to me that D&D was a game you played with other people, something I wouldn’t do until my 20s, but I was very familiar with worldbuilding.

Now, I’m the DM for my group of friends, and I try to come up with interesting, varied stories for them to play.

30 Things This Blog is About (#2: Game Design Theory/Practice)

I grew up with video games, and they’ve informed a lot of my life. From being a kid who played games while spending as little time on homework as possible (I did well in classes because it meant I could blow off doing homework which, in turn, meant more video game time) to an adult who has pursued and accomplished the dream of being a professional video game designer, games have been with me for my whole life.

When I was much younger, I played a Super Nintendo game that stuck with me– it was called Lagoon, and it frustrated me to no end. Despite playing it for many, many hours, I was never able to complete the first dungeon, despite having played and beaten many similar games. I struggled for a long time with it. Lagoon is a game of middling-to-low reviews, which in this case means that it was a very pretty, compelling presentation marred by some fundamental flaws. I desperately wanted to like that game, but that fun eluded me at every turn.

It wasn’t until later that I was able to internalize that games were not all created equal, and a failure on my part to find the fun in a game was not necessarily a flaw in myself. It sparked, for 7-year-old me, the thought that actual people (with actual person flaws) were responsible for making video games, and that if they could do it, I could to. It marked a change for me between being a person who merely consumed games and one who actively thought about the games I played and why they worked.

30 Things This Blog is About (#1: Video Games)

I play, and have played, a lot of video games. I spend a lot of time playing them and thinking about them, and they inform a lot of my inspiration and perspective. I grew up an introvert in a neighborhood of extroverts, and video games became a close friend early on. I’ve had the opportunity to watch video games grow from an oft-maligned, stigmatized medium to a medium larger than Hollywood and enjoyed by all.

When I was younger, I wished I could show people who didn’t play video games the kinds of experiences and thoughts and fun I derived from them, but was too inarticulate to do so. Now, when I have finally become articulate enough to communicate my thoughts, I’ve found myself in a world where my thoughts are shared by many.

Now, instead of trying to share my experiences with other people, I can talk with other people about our shared experiences. I can learn as much as I show, and I’m much more likely to find something I didn’t know. I play everything I have time for, and some things I don’t, and I’ll certainly be spending quite a lot of time on it here.

Introductions, and What To Expect


I’m Tam, your host here on this blog. I’ve been working in video games for nearly a decade and have a background in media and business. My passion is games, of all kinds — everything from mechanics to worldbuilding to player psychology to the business to industry trends to stories to why I can’t get Full Throttle to work quite right on my PC.

This blog is a repository of thoughts, they’ll probably reflect whatever I’m thinking about at the current moment and will almost certainly span a wide range of topics. While I don’t promise an overarching theme (other than “games”, broadly), I have a particular interest in perspective — I want to see as many sides of a given topic as I can. If I write something, and you can offer a point of view I’ve missed, please let me know! I’m happy to engage with people in comments, particularly if it means I (or you or both of us) learn something new.

I strongly believe in evidence-based debate, and I equally strongly believe that anecdotal evidence is largely worthless, though can be significant in specific, isolated cases. I have a real issue with what feels like a growing trend of anti-intellectualism; knowledge is power and intentionally denying oneself or others knowledge is depriving them of power and agency in their own lives– a large portion of people’s problems in general can be attributed to unequally distributed (or a general lack of) knowledge.

On the flip side, I generally believe that most people are essentially good, and aren’t intentionally out to harm others. When people make decisions that cause others to come to harm, I tend to feel like the issue is a lack of perspective (see above, with regards to knowledge). For myself, I’m interested in perspective; I’m aware that my own position on things is incomplete and I seek to broaden that as much as I can. As someone with an interest in business and particularly management, I think a broad sense of perspective is crucial.

All of this is very heavy, and only really serves to offer you some idea of where I’m coming from when I talk about things. I’ll probably post game reviews here, and a lot of times they’ll be qualified with statements like “if you like X, you’ll probably like this game”, rather than a score or any similar measurement. I’ll also probably talk about things like game design and player psychology in fairly impersonal terms, again just to offer perspective. Having done it quite a bit, I feel like the nuts and bolts of game design have a bit of “how the sausage is made” to them, that don’t always thrill people. I’d still like to talk about them, though, so hopefully you’ll bear with me.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy what you see here, and I’ll try to offer up thoughts.