Where’s My Son?
[WARNING ALERT: POSSIBLE SUICIDAL CONTENT] Link: https://eyt18.itch.io/wheres-my-son
Where’s My Son (WMS) is an interactive storytelling game that I have created to talk about the mental health of a patient, specifically Alzheimer’s disease. In this game, I did not explicitly tell the players that the main character (Colleen) is in a medical setting, a home or a hospice. However, the main intention of the game is for the players to empathize with the patient. There are times it is clear that she forgets about her history, while other times she forgets about her choices too. The story is meant to be really quick that it imitates a short story.
There are two iterations after multiple playtesting.
In this iteration, I wanted Colleen to be much more medically ill, and I want the players to go in the same loop of waking up, over and over again, forgetting all her memories from the day before. However, I find that the game is not as impactful, and the player gets bored after a while without getting the story. Also, some players were saying that the game could add more details, and it was plain and un-interactive. However, my argument is that I wanted the players to focus more on the emotions and character development, rather than details of other things. (I just want to get to the point)
The consequences in the game are rather ordinary inside this because they converged to the same decisions anyway. However, I wanted to give the players a choice, and make them think that there are multiple pathways in this game. I also want to make a game more straightforward, hence making a really good converging storyline, rather than a split mediocre story that does not capture the audience well.
In iteration 2, I developed the story a little further and I made the main character remember details that she went through over the previous day. She also recalled that she used to be a successful person, but now, she is disabled by this degenerative disease. I did not want to develop her into a more depressive person. The reason why I chose (possible) suicide as the ending was due to the disparity of who she was, and who she is in the ending. The disparity is way too much to handle, and knowing that there is no way out, it’s just easier to “let go”. I want the players to recognize that behind every patient was a possibly successful person in the past, that it all goes to nothing once you forget your past. The ending is more impactful because it deals with suicide, where the intersection of life and death meets. I didn’t intentionally say suicide as well because I did not want to trigger anyone. However, I think the impact is the more imperative part because it is something that can inspire someone to act and do something with their new knowledge. There are also instances that the players are confused because they don’t know what they are signing themselves up for. I think the emotion is validating, because most of the time, the patients are in a constant state of confusion, wondering why they were there, or what the new place was.
Ultimately, I think those who got really impacted are people who have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. They are the group of people who can really empathize with these patients. Initially, I wanted to increase the awareness of the general population who might not know anything about Alzheimer’s disease, or could not empathize with them. However, based on this experiment, I realized that I could use this game to impact those with a family history much more, and they can spread the word themselves! I think making a deeper impact on a smaller group of people would be more insightful than making a shallow impact on a general group of people. In terms of ways of improvement for the general population, I think the best approach would be to create more drama towards the ending and get them to feel more. Perhaps putting maternal elements would generate more emotions for the general population, rather than focusing on Alzheimer’s. Once the maternal elements are sunk in the players, they will be more empathetic towards Colleen with Alzheimer’s.
Personally, I struggled a lot of times with the capabilities of Twine. I feel that this assignment has introduced me to the storytelling way of games, and that is something that it would be impossible (for now) to replicate in board games. What I think is interesting would be the interaction between your freedom to act, and the possibility the stories can offer. WMS offers a lot of in-between options, but the end converges into one ultimately. I did not have more creativity at this moment to think of other stories to make this more impactful. I also did not utilize the tools available in the software because they were pretty hard to use on the first try. I will give myself more time to experiment and more time to go for it, before publishing the next story. In this game, what I have learned is that starting small is a good way to go before you expand out into other avenues that you want to look into.
What I like/dislike about this assignment
Exploring interactive storytelling is and will always be discomfort for me (for now). However, I think that is something I would like to challenge myself before I give up in this area of work. I like that I went towards a smaller scale story to challenge myself because it gave me space to explore the limited possibilities. I think having a large scale story does not appeal to me as much, and this shows when I was playing my classmates’ game; I am generally not a novel kind of person, and short stories just appeal to me so much more. With this idea, I might start adapting short story fiction books that I grew up with (My favourite Singaporean short story writer – Catherine Lim), and I might adopt her stories (Big shoutout to the book Steal Like An Artist) and make it a game. Most of these short stories are sad realities of life. But that is the fun of making it into a game. We don’t learn unless we ridicule ourselves.
Discomfort is probably the least favourite thing in this assignment. That aside, I think the lack of skills to execute is the next contender in this category. I think a lot of us envision creating interactive storytelling in the most extravagant way. However, that really requires investing more time to explore the tools available. I think we are most definitely capable of doing more, just the lack of ability at this moment of time. I think I have also underestimated my skills significantly in this assignment because I have been sticking to traditional mediums so much, that any new “trends” are automatically a no for me. So I am glad that I am disliking this so much, but having this guilty pleasure to want to explore more.
The meaning of user experience is highly dependent on individuals. That includes anything that makes humans human. Emotions, feelings, colours, audio, familiar voices. Those are distinguishable Homo Sapien traits. In this assignment, I solely focus on bringing players a roller coaster journey on their emotions. Some of them feel confused because they want to be told what problem Colleen has, others got it right away (most noticeably those with family or friends with dementia). Both feelings are valid because I don’t think I can create a game that fits everyone, might as well stir up some emotions out of someone. However, what can complement this emotional journey would be the 5 senses we all have. Unfortunately, I cannot produce an aroma, nor can I touch the player. But I can put words into familiar feelings of these. For example, the good old Indian curry that I used to cook for Sebastian (son), that now he cooked for me. Or perhaps the way I used to touch Sebastian in the chest to let him know everything will be okay, and now Sebastian is doing the same for me. What I can produce would be sounds and audio. I do not think I will be going for something that is heavy. Perhaps something light, emotional would be the mood of the music. On more intense moments, perhaps taking the knife out from the kitchen, maybe the swish of a metallic sound might heighten the player’s experience. The music will not be the main character of the story. Colours are something I have not explored as well. I am not sure where colours might fit into it, perhaps in choices. That said, colours would be worth iterating through to understand the player’s preference.
I think what I will progress is putting these few elements
- Maternal love – putting more maternal love into the story guides the user to be more empathetic towards Colleen so they can better put themselves in terms of a caregiver towards patients with Alzheimer’s
- Playing with colours and fonts – not as critical, but might enhance UX
- Sounds – major yes to improve spine-chilling effects
- More Twine function – need time to explore but possible once well-acquainted
- Perhaps diverging endings – I have not tried this, but I reckon I should try it before I know how it will turn out
- Be more forgiving to myself – big key to continuing doing this game design process
– Insightful and poignant theme! I like your choice to keep things concise to keep the player engaged enough to see the story to its conclusion
– If you want to pursue this for the final project, I recommend adding depth to Colleen’s character, potentially by:
(1) Using more descriptors to induce emotional impact (e.g. describe the woman you expect to see in the mirror, and who you see instead)
(2) Adding a few more anecdotes/memories from Colleen’s life
(3) I noticed that Colleen sarcastically replies “I’m “good”” to the nurse after completing a loop. I thought this was a bit funny and interesting—perhaps in the same fashion, you can include more of Colleen’s personal thoughts in brackets to give her more personality.
– Overall interesting theme and engaging storytelling experience!
– I think you were right to let Colleen retain some memory of the player’s past choices to keep the game engaging!
– Give a few more run throughs to fix typos for a final version
– Again, I appreciated that the loops are concise, allowing you to easily link actions to consequences and explore different paths
Honoring the medium:
– Instead of summarizing Sebastian’s conversation with Colleen, perhaps making it a line-by-line experience where readers can choose what Colleen tells him (e.g. does she ever confront him?) will add excitement
– Overall, decent use of the application
– Nice, detailed documentation!
1. The main value in this game is to make the player empathize with Alzheimer’s patients. The author puts this value into his game by not immediately revealing that the main character has Alzheimer’s, and instead slowly reveals this throughout the story by having other characters tell the main character things that the main character does not remember about their own life. The decision to reveal the story piece by piece makes the player as confused in the beginning as an Alzheimer’s patient would be.
2. I think the game did a good job of getting me to care about Alzheimer’s patients, since it made me gain empathy for them by putting me in their shoes. The ending was also very sad, and it made me extremely worried for the main character’s life. The author used Twine well, as the different choices that the player could make in Twine were what drove the story forward. The choices that were most interesting to me were the one where Colleen, the main character, has to decide whether her son is 8 or 34, and the one where she tries to remember whether it’s 9am or 1pm. It was as if Colleen could hazily recall things but couldn’t tell which one was the truth.
3. I thought it was great how, towards the end, there were fewer and fewer choices as Colleen became more and more frantic. The things to click on became single words embedded in lines rather than full lines.
4. I noticed some inconsistencies with the blue clickable text; most of them were Colleen’s actions/thoughts, but some were actions by other people, which confused me. It would be great if the clickable text were consistent in whose actions they are conveying.