Before this class I didn’t have a great understanding of how games could be used for both political and social means. Or rather, I thought that it would be similar to educational games in a classroom, that had no value outside of the concept they were trying to teach. I didn’t make the connection that many of my favorite games: (like Papers Please, or Return of Obra Dinn) in their lofty artistic ambitions were already on the spectrum of serious games. I was worried about video games being turned into a type of propaganda, and the key of my question was whether gameplay in of itself could be used for social change.
I also questioned the purpose of the MDA framework, as it seemed another way to turn an art-form into a cookie-cutter cut-and-paste system rather than a living expression. Using it with my team members in games like October Surprise and Tax Hero, I see now that the framework is really good for communicating abstract game concepts and processes very clearly.
Having taken 247g, I was worried that some of the repeated material wouldn’t be relevant, but I found that it was very useful to have concepts like the emergent/evocative be repeated in the class.
In the class the team experiences were great. Working with other determined and creative people, I was able to take feedback from my teammates to heart. Learning to contribute to and expand on other people’s ideas was really fun.
Playing games like SPENT changed my perspective, as the hopelessness of the narrative truly put me in the perspective of a struggle family today. It made me want to contribute to change in a way nothing else up to that point had made me. I think the most valuable portion of the class was the variety of different types of games that we played. Playing games like Perfect Dark , or (I can’t remember the name of it, but there was a zombie game I played with Amy), Dominion, and Flux gave me exposure to different ways of presenting information to players through cards, dice, board maps, and narrative storylines. One of my favorite memories is an early prototype for a game called Kannibal Kitchen, where players had to optimize purchasing bellies, stomachs, and livers, among global health events. The passion I saw players use in making a million calculations in their heads to help their cannibal kitchen survive was frankly awe-inspiring. It made me feel very proud to be a game designer.
My favorite project was my interactive fiction, and I learned a lot from the creation of it. I really tried to think outside-the-box with the project, and make players both laugh and be scared and inspired by the wacky, scary, yet scarily relatable characters and themes. I think the number one thing I needed to get better at was at priming the player so they didn’t feel the need to understand everything they read, and instead just absorb the atmosphere. The confusion players had, while part of the game, was a bit too much for players. The question of how to prime the player without spoiling the plot is something that I still struggle with at the moment, but I think I’ll get better at, as I make more games.
I learned how adjusting a game can easily increase the audience of the game without impacting the quality. Audiences are easily affected by things like tone and perceived complexity of the writing. Simplifying the language can make complex narratives much more approachable and understandable.
I found readings like rise of the zinesters very inspiring in that they showed how a game can be a bootstrapped part of political change, similar to a manifesto or a pamphlet. This really opened my eyes, to how diverse experiences and challenging questions about a culture can be made evident through playing a game. The talk with the developers of 30 days, in showing the power of paper prototyping and how by doing something as simple as giving the player 3 options for any given situation can drastically improve perceived agency is something that really opened my eyes when writing interactive fiction.
In the future I’ll make sure to see the value of small, manifesto-like games which can dismantle structures, as well as how to package my products in a way that can prime my players for a specific kind of adventure without spoiling as to what the themes or the message is about. I’ll remember to refine my games to focus on overall immersion over excessive focus on mechanical innovation and make them easy to jump into, without losing my love of games with deep and complicated lore for you to uncover and add to. Overall I’m very grateful for this class as an opportunity to get feedback for some of my ideas, as well as be exposed to the ideas of others.