The other day I played a board game called The Castles of Burgundy. I should qualify: Attempted to play. My favourite games include family staples Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble and Pictionary — suffice to say, I’m no hardcore gamer (of which there is an entire subculture) — and Castles of Burgundy definitely represented one of the more challenging games I’ve played, with various cards, counters, game boards and dice all woven together in a complex web of rules, interactions and counteractions. Not to mention the graphics, which did nothing to help matters and appeared to throw user experience to the wind: Playing in the murky, low-light conditions of a pub games night, I found myself straining to decipher detailed (though beautiful) illustrations no bigger than a fingernail, and to tell apart various coloured tiles (all with very different meanings) within a near-monochromatic colour palette.
As my friend, a seasoned gamer, explained the rules, I became increasingly dispirited. Having started the night expecting a fun challenge with simple goals and objectives (get the most points to win the game!), I began to view the evening as a mountain to be climbed, in a storm, with crappy hiking boots and little chance of success.
Predictably, I lost. But, you know what? As the game went on, I actually began to enjoy it. I started to pick up the rules, form a strategy and figure out ways to thwart my opponents. Although some aspects were still frustrating, I felt pleased when I mastered a set of exchanges and made small gains. I enjoyed having to think around a problem or obstruction and anticipate my adversaries’ next move. I could see why people enjoyed playing these sorts of games.
These emotions won’t be new to anyone who’s ever tried to learn web development. As a conference producer-cum-designer, much of my free time spent teaching myself HTML and CSS feels a little like playing Castles of Burgundy in a darkened pub, surrounded by people who already know the rules. Many of us with specialist knowledge on a subject (whether in web design or another discipline) have a tendency to forget at times just how long it took us to acquire that knowledge which now feels innate to us, and that what comes as naturally as breathing to us by way of years of practise is, to someone new to the field, an uphill struggle.
The web design industry is one of the most supportive and welcoming to newcomers of any that I’ve come across. And it’s vital that those starting out in this extremely rewarding field are encouraged to persist. We might not get all the rules initially. We might finish way behind on the first go. But we’ll do it by trial and error and maybe a stroke of luck, and perhaps one day we’ll conquer kingdoms.