Play it here!
A friend of mine struggled to find her career path in her junior year of college. She loves both storytelling and tech and didn’t want to give up either aspect. While playing narrative games to soothe her anxiety, she unexpectedly found it her dream career and started paying efforts to get into the company that made her favorite game, Life is Strange. The topic of interactive fiction immediately reminded me of her story, which motivated me a lot. Therefore, I decided to adapt my friend’s story to this project.
Setting, Role, and Journey
You are Aria, a female college student studying English literature and computer science. You are deciding your future career path – either a movie writer or a software engineer. After researching, you learned that misogyny is very common in both fields. You discover narrative gaming as your dream career, but your job application gets rejected. Needing to yourself, you accepted a software engineer internship offer.
Not wanting to give up your dream, you use the after-work time to study what makes young women quit after pursuing either of the two fields. You recollect crisis moments when you felt disadvantaged as a female in STEM; then, you interview an accomplished woman in the film production industry. Based on the findings, you created a narrative game that informs the public how we all can do better in supporting young women with their dreams. Along the journey, what skills did you learn, what people did you meet, and how will they lead you to different endings?
Understanding and Feeling
The players will get a realistic experience of the gender bias that a girl in STEM or the film industry encounters from high school to her late career. On the flip side, the players also realize that underrepresented females form a community that supports each other: Many accomplished women overcame the stereotype, paved a road for future generations, and are willing to provide resources for young women in need. The real world is a dystopia, but there is hope.
Iterations & Improvements
Playable first draft (Feb 7, 2023)
I had a draft, converting the premise to a prototype in twine. On average, I had one or two sentences per passage, and some only had a title.
Feedback from classmates
- The topic of misogyny is meaningful. The project can be impactful for the readers if they can resonate with the character, which requires me to compellingly convey the story.
- Adding time to rewinding components would be fun.
- It is more interesting if I write multiple endings: the character can meet different people and learn different skills along the way, which leads to various jobs and mindsets in the end.
- Keep expanding the passages.
- Make each “crisis moment” a memory rewinding so the plot is not linear in time.
- Adding variables of “programming skill,” “writing skill,” “courage,” etc. The variables will increase by different values if the readers choose different story branches.
- Write endings depending on the value of these variables.
Playtestable “close to final” (Feb 14, 2023)
At this time, I had almost finished the crisis moments, but I hadn’t expanded the film industry storyline.
Feedback from classmates
- Add emotions to the story would make it more compelling
- The physics class scene is weird. I can depict the character’s mental activity more
- The plot of having a mentor is cool. I can emphasize the importance of the environment/others helping the character besides herself working so hard.
- Implement the movie write track so that the players are not being brought back to CS
- Rewrite the passages by adding the environment description and emotion of the character.
- I decided to put more weight on the sense of the female community and women helping each other – giving the players more exposure to mentorship will increase the character’s skills significantly.
- Fix some confusing terms my classmates couldn’t understand, like “high tech” and “informatics”
This is a fun project, and I learned a ton about storytelling. I learned many different ways to unfold the plot (e.g., the player doesn’t have any information in the beginning, and they need to collect these things by making choices; the timeline can either be linear or reversed or mixed) and design the branching map (e.g., will different choices lead to totally different plots, or is there a time to bring all branches back to a point?).
Due to the time constraint, I didn’t write this story to a typical fiction length with many descriptional or emotional details in all passages. However, I tried my best to incorporate the complete storylines in my mind and play with the variable settings (which lead the readers to different endings). I also didn’t have the chance to polish my narrative fiction with illustrations and sound effects. Next time I would make my narrative game sound aesthetically so that the players enjoy it much more.
Hello! 🙂 I am noticing values of grit, informed decision-making, dedication to one’s craft, and persistence in the face of adversity. The player is Aria, a college student with deep interests in writing and software engineering, who reflects on several “crises” from systematic sexism and microaggressions. They eventually must decide if, and how, they will pursue a career that supports their dreams, especially with their aspirational hopes of making a narrative-based game…
The medium is a very fitting format for “how could my life have gone differently” stories because it reveals the various decision-trees that could have spiraled from a choice at a certain point in a life. I see excellent nods to “Life is Strange,” and I am so happy for the main character who is able to work for their dream company, Deck Nine, who created the game! While this story is mostly linear, the choices made during the crises and arcs, such as “do I find a mentor, reach out to a talented director, apply for this job?” seem to increment player stats that shape the end outcome, and my player character either ends up at their dream game company or satisfied at their software engineering internship. : )
I particularly appreciate how the “research” is shown in the first few passages and quotes real facts (perhaps cite the articles in the story next time?) on the slowly improving but continued lack of representation on many top films and top tech companies, with how in the top 250 films in 2017, 88% of had no female directors, 83% had no female writers, 96% had no cinematographers, and 90% of major studio films have no female assistants, and in 2022, 28% of (U.S.?) jobs in the tech industry are held by women, but only 15% for engineering. As someone who is graduating soon and majored in both computer science and English (and yes, also aspires to make narrative-based games), I found an opportunity to reflect on the actual ecosystem around me in the real world (besides the “can-do” attitude that Stanford encourages) and how I have faced and will have to continue to find solutions for navigating flawed social and economic systems to achieve my dreams.
I played the game a few times, and one of my favorite details is how if you do not have a mentor with connections (ah, the dream!) and have to apply to the game company via cover letter, the designer included a very passionate summary and explanation of Aria’s journey and how she is a top performer at a tech company, who nonetheless recognizes that she wants to merge her technical and storytelling abilities into working on her dream. However much of this story is drawn from a real-life person is unclear, but the line “My Max chose Chloe over Arcadia Bay; so will I.” is truly excellent for how it illustrates the player’s character’s value system too.
With this said, one potential source of improvement is deepening the nuances of the crises, provided that the designer intends to allow players to “fail” at getting the dream role. (Maybe the outcome is always guaranteed, a good career in software development though not necessarily the game development company, and that’s also another theme of complacency and evolution of goals!) The player character is always (from my playthroughs) committed to their technical development in the face of adversity, but I wonder if there are emotional crises and cycles that lead to a longer path to getting to the dream. For example, even if the player character loses touch with their female mentor, they still focus on their work, and end up doing great at the internship so that they are offered a full-time role. I also wonder if there are ways to include more research excerpts, or real cited quotes by powerful women in engineering and the arts, to strengthen the realistic setting. This would also encourage more self-examination; I know this character story hits very close to home for me, haha : )
I enjoyed playing your game ~ thank you for sharing! : )
The main values I saw while playing this game were equality, community, and perseverance. While Yuchen’s role as a key actor played an essential part in shaping these values, I think social input had the biggest impact. I think Yuchen did a great job of showing equality through their design choice of having the player be able to research both a Software Engineer and Movie Writer path and seeing the reality of the clear gender imbalance in these fields. Giving the player choices throughout the Crisis sequences also highlighted the importance of perseverance and finding a supportive community.
I could not relate more to the first line after clicking on ‘Software Engineer’. I’ll never forget the day two of my friends who are also women and had gone through basically the entire CS core with me here at Stanford told me they were changing their majors. It can definitely get lonely so I couldn’t help but relate to Aria. I thought Yuchen made a brilliant choice with the chosen story format from Twine. It felt like I was reading Aria’s journal which I thought blended well with the dialogue since it was often in past tense. The choice that gave me the most pause was the one where you could decide to either drop out or continue the Olympiad class after the teacher’s speech, which I personally would have reported immediately. I thought about following the other girls and how much easier it would be if I did drop out, but ultimately I continued. I was happy to see my perseverance paid off and Aria got a bronze metal, but that happiness quickly faded when I read about the lack of reaction from the teacher.
I think this choice really highlights the struggle women face when they decide to persevere and be one of the “pioneers” trying to lead the way for future generations of women, the often lack of acknowledgement from their male peers, and in this case as well, mentor. Something I thought was awesome was the ability to check out other paths before moving along in the story’s overall sequence. Like being able to research both Software Engineering and becoming a Movie Writer, but I appreciated that it also mixed with choices that would increase an attribute of mine and that overall I could not go back without restarting the whole game. If Yuchen was to continue this game for P4, one improvement I would suggest would be adding little visuals. Not like an entire background, but since I got the vibe of a journal aspect, I think it would be cool to see little drawings that maybe Aria made in her “journal” like Max with her diary from Life is Strange. Overall, an amazing game with a story that had a strong beginning, middle, and end!
P.S. Bae over Bay for life!!
Excellent work! I agree that spending time to make the story a bit more detailed and perhaps some more facts (40% women is pretty good for a stanford class, we tend to be 30%) The ending felt a little rushed. As well, I would enjoy seeing a friend or two as well. Does the protagonist have supportive friends or not? Is their romantic partner encouraging, or do they advise to give up? It’s important to make us really root for this person!
I love your message. Keep polishing and playtesting!