Before I started P3, my idea of a systems game was one that was riddled with several parts, a complex economy, interconnecting goals, and with the key objective to simulate a system. Over the course of P3 however, I’ve learned that systems games can include these elements but are ultimately defined by the relationships between mechanics and how they inform each other and the player to provide a glimpse into a system.
With that said, our group came into this process with the idea to create a satirical game. This decision led to our theme as one that emulates social media, specifically content creators and “cancel” culture. We felt that by selecting this specific topic, we would be able to abstract many of the nuances of social media such as misinformation, accountability, social awareness, group-thought, and rhetoric to name a few.
While the core game loop of players acting out videos in response to topics has remained the same throughout the process, many mechanics and changes have been made to move closer to modeling social media. We’ve added character cards and role playing elements to provide different incentives and perspectives, wagering to model how people offer support/blindly follow for their own gain, and changed our topic cards to be sillier to highlight how information is produced and received as opposed to focusing on the morality of topics.
In arriving at these new elements, one of the most enjoyable parts of this experience has been to observe playtests and witness the number of laughs, creativity, and unexpectedness that has emerged. As a group, we’ve seen players dive head first into their personas, improvise using music from their phone, and bring their own personalities and knowledge into their acting. Furthermore, players have provided valuable feedback and some have even voiced they understand how the model is represented within the game.
While the learning goals aren’t as explicit at the expense of being abstracted, we hope that players are able to gain a sense of what it’s like to be at the center of public opinion. More importantly, we hope players are able to make more cautious judgments about the information they both produce and consume online. In the future, I would be curious to playtest with a group of people who are more unfamiliar with internet culture and see how much they are able to learn or how the game operates.
Nonetheless, this process has certainly shifted my knowledge and appreciation of systems games. I’m able to think more critically about the relationships in games and wonder about the intentionality behind the design choices. I think it’s always challenging to find balance in creating a game – or any tool – that has both fun and pedagogical aspects, so moving forward I’m excited to take my learnings and apply them to future projects.