Hey there, I’d like to interrupt you for a moment, if I may. Did you know psychotherapy and game design have a lot in common? This is not to say that game developers are insane. Of course, I’m not not saying that either. What I am saying is this: since becoming The Silicon Valley Therapist, I’ve realized that both therapy and game development are all about the breaks: Breakdowns and Breakthroughs. Interestingly, being on the verge of either one can lead you into the other.
What does this have to do with Theme vs. Design? An excellent question. I believe Design and Theme are also about breakdowns and breakthroughs. When examining games, we tend to merge them together, but I’d like to explore them separately. Though Design and Theme are two different facets of a game, their interaction will influence the overall game feel, to be sure. However, whereas design is necessary, theme is merely optional. You needn’t go farther than Pong to find a game with a design and no theme. You can’t have a game without a design. Adding a theme doesn’t change the design but it may significantly impact the player’s perceived experience… for better or worse. How does it do that? Like this…
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