Game Design Night Reflection

My “live gameplay experience” was not, per se, gameplay, but rather the Queer Game Design night hosted at the MADD center. We set about in small groups making games with queer mechanics. The game my group made was a collaborative card game. In trying to get it to be collaborative, we ended up thinking about things similar to what we talk about with collaboration in ARGs. We were trying to determine what would inspire or motivate players to cooperate, how to reward them for doing so without really penalizing them for not. We toyed a lot with what players might find to be engaging mechanics, especially in a game that emphasized non-competitive play. Our biggest challenge, however, was one of affect. Since the game mechanic we were designing around was “coming out” we wanted to be extremely careful with the implications of rewarding or penalizing certain behaviors, like competitiveness or helpfulness. We wanted players to have to think about coming out as a communal good that they needed to achieve for everyone as opposed to an individual process that they could win. Our thinking on this problem ended up almost entirely shaping the nature of the game.

Queer Game Night

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend Queer Game Night, led by Patrick. During this time, we were each thrown a crumpled up piece of paper, which, when unfolded, addressed a detailed prompt. These prompts were special, however. Tied to the theme of Queer Game Night, each prompt had an underlying action. My group had “Coming Out”, and this was the motion that had to be activated during the game. With four paragraphs explaining the ins and outs of coming out, our goal was to design a game that would cause a player to play out this “coming out” action.

Without any other direction, we had to be creative and brainstorm how to effectively cause this game mechanic to work. Our group decided on creating an action based card game. As we only had 2 hours to design this game, the possible situations were limited. We kept it to an ideal number of 3 for the cards. The premise of the game consisted of players receiving 5 cards in their hand, and each player starts off with 12 points, which they may distribute however they like to the following attributes: courage, charisma, and connectedness. The cards in their hands, and the cards which they’d draw from the deck, are “boost” cards which have either +1 or +2 of one of the attributes. There were 3 “event” cards which was the “draw” deck in a typical card game. These events were tier leveled and consisted of scenarios in which the player’s character has to “come out.” The first tier was coming out to the doctor when he prompts the player with the question, “Are you sexually active?” The second event was the nosy aunt at Thanksgiving pestering the player, “When are you going to bring home a GF/BF (player should choose the typical heterosexual complementing partner to complete the aunt’s dialogue)?” The third event, which requires the highest amount of attributes, was asking your crush to prom, a very big event for teenagers, and a very big way of coming out to a large social network. With all of these elements, we were able to figure out a way to get everyone involved by creating a collaborative environment. The goal of the game for the players is to obtain 5 body parts, which they can get from completing events or assisting other people with their events by donating their boost cards. The first one to build their body essentially wins first place, but must keep playing because it is possible to lose body parts. If more than 1/3 of the body is taken away, then everyone loses. This aspect of the game encourages teamwork and for the players to keep playing until everyone is able to accomplish coming out during the game. Like I said, with the limited amount of time we had, the number of cards we had for each card deck was limited. Some examples of the boost cards were: courage – crushing a bug, charisma – got a new shirt, connectedness – spent 1-on-1 time with my mom.

During the brainstorming process of creating a game, I had to immerse myself as a potential player and think what elements of a game I would appreciate. It kind of felt like I took on the role of a player and was working backwards from an unknown finished game to reach the beginning phases of creating a game in order to think of each part that would be necessary to actually construct my ideal game. Looking back on other card games I’ve applied that involve a drawing mechanism, such as Exploding Kittens or Unstable Unicorns, it was easy to imagine needing boost cards to trigger an event to occur. When we talked about game design fundamentals during week 4, specifically Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop, and social experiments during week 6, specifically Jane McGonigal’s This is Not a Game, I realized that these are aspects that were part of our subconscious thoughts when designing the game.

Game Design Workshop mentions playtesters, but due to the structure of the game night, we took on all encompassing roles of game designer and testers, as with each step of the way, we had to envision how the game would play out and whether it would make sense. We also had to think about any repercussions along the way from each mechanic of the game. We continuously kept the player experience in mind and wanted to create a game that would have an emphasis on the queer community. As game designers, we want to create a safe environment for our players so that they can enjoy the game to their fullest desires. With such a sensitive topic like coming out, especially when it’s known to be a special, built up moment for many people, we had to think of a game where it wouldn’t create any homophobic/unsafe situations for the players. Although each player is participating in “coming out,” the event cards we created are all real life situations that are common for many young adults struggling with the right words. When McGonigal talks about immersive and pervasive play, we really had to think about how the game would align with their lives pre- and post-game. With the immersive play of the game, players who don’t identify as part of the queer community get a chance to see how difficult it is to come out by having to gather the necessary amount of points for each attribute. For the players who are part of the queer community, they get to either relive the moments or practice for the future. The best part of the game is that all of the players’ sexual orientation is hidden so no one is openly exposed if they don’t want to be. The pervasive aspect comes from what the players choose to do with their experience from playing the game. Players can bring the courage they gathered from the game and apply it to their real lives.

Bad News Reflection

When attending the Bad News Demonstration, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had read the description of the event but did not really know what it meant; that is because it is very hard to categorize what took place in that room. The event link described it as having Wizard of Oz techniques, this means that there is some all-powerful world maker that can alter the game at their own discretion. In this demonstration, one participant from the crowd was selected. The whole concept of the game is that someone has died, the player does not know who, and they must find the next of kin of the deceased and communicate what happened. For this a whole world is created. This is done by live coding of one of the game makers. This world is so complex that the code generates 100 years of history in a matter of seconds. This includes everything from physical appearances to love interests to knowledge of other people in the town. The coder then communicates details about the world such as the deceased, next off kin, and other important details to an actor who acts all of this out to the player so that they can decipher the clues and figure out who the next of kin is so that they can ultimately win the game.

Because I was not picked as the participant, I was able to observe all of this from the position of the game maker. This was very interesting because I knew who the next of kin was from the beginning and the audience along with the coder and actor had to figure out ways to clue the player. By seeing the other side of an alternate reality game, I was able to see all of the improvisation that goes into an ARG. I found that actually in most cases throughout the game, the game makers were working much harder than the player was. This connects back to our readings about the improvisation associated with ARGs and the fact that the game makers job is not complete until the game is completely finished. This could not have been any truer for the Bad News ARG because going into the game, nothing had been set up. The actor had not been informed of the deceased. The coder had not done any of the coding needed yet. The world that this ARG would take place in had not even been created yet. This caused the game makers to scramble in order to stay ahead of the player. This dynamic is very different than any ARG I had seen to this point. In my opinion, I think being the player would have been significantly less interesting because the best part of the game was trying to come up with clues that the player would understand but were not too easy.

It was also very interesting to observe the actor and how he presented the clues that we gave him. This is a classic example of bleeding in. He took the very plain information that we gave him and tied it into elaborate clues and riddles. The actor also seemed to be yelling throughout the entire presentation. I thought all of this was for effect and thought he executed his role perfectly. After the game was over, he came out for a Q&A. In this I found that his personality matched that of the roles he played almost perfectly. It was clear that he took his own personality and reflected it into his acting.

Bleed and the ARG

 When watching Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, I became fascinated with concept of bleeding in and bleeding out. I immediately went and reread the Bowman article “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character” after Tuesday’s discussion. After this I started to look at different examples of bleed in and out in pop culture as well as in ARGs.

              Even though a very elementary example quite literally, I think the show Hannah Montana does a very good job of depicting bleed. As a student who even quoted Hannah Montana in my college essays, I have long been a fan of the show. I was always intrigued with how Hannah Montana/ Miley Cyrus managed her changing role. One of the interesting aspects of the show is that early on, her friends do not even know that she is Hannah Montana. This is done in order to try to allow her to have a normal teenage life without the added attention from the media. I feel like this disguise actually influences Miley in a negative way. In the show, certain aspects of her character Hannah Montana start to bleed out into her everyday life as Miley Cyrus. This can be seen as the show goes on because Miley starts talking like Hannah Montana which is not true to herself. At certain points before her friends find out, she also acts like a prima donna as part of the star of Hannah Montana starts to bleed into her everyday personality. If this were a real life examples, Miley Cyrus would have been much better off if she had just performed herself instead of in costume. This would have prevented the bleed between two characters that was difficult to maintain.

              Bleeding out is much less likely to have permanent effects within the world of ARGs. This is because normally ARGs do not last all that long to have effects on the personality of the player. Bleeding in is very real in terms of ARGs. This is because a lot of times players get to choose  their characters personality and will similarly mirror similar aspects of their own personality. This allows the player to feel more comfortable in their role. Although bleed is not inherently good or bad, I believe that bleed in is very beneficial within the ARG community. This allows games to flow much more naturally because characters are less likely to try personalities extremely different from their own. When participating in ARGs, bleed is good as long as the player can recognize this bleed and correct it if it becomes overpowering.

Thoughts on “Bad News”: Generative Gameplay and Loss/Death

For me, personally, I was blown away by how moving our playthrough of Bad News was.  For a game that was created entirely through a randomly generated town, I was afraid that I would not be able to immerse myself in the gameplay because I would always know in the back of my head that the game and narrative was just generated, rather than an actual storyline written by a game designer; however, by the end of the game, I felt myself completely invested in the lives and stories of the characters, and even moved at the end when the bad news was delivered (I even noticed several people around me tearing up).  I think the game really highlighted something beautiful about the nature of humans in general to be empathetic; there were really no visuals or faces to attach to certain characters, and yet we still were able to feel for characters.  Part of me wonders if the game would be as emotional if there was not an actor involved to be able to add color to the town attributes we found out through lines of code.

I also wanted to highlight a moment in the gameplay that I felt was overlooked. At the end of the game, the game mediator entered a line of code that deleted the entire town along with its 150 years of history, then mentioned that there was no possible way to recover it.  In this exact moment, I felt almost a more powerful version of loss and death than I did when the bad news was delivered.  Even though the end of the game was somber in that our character’s death was communicated to the next of kin, this ending felt final and satisfying; part of me imagined how the town would live on and cope with such death.  When the town was wiped out after the game ended, I felt the loss of an entire town with its over 130 inhabitants and its multiple generations of history.

Bad News also makes me contemplate what the future of generative gaming could be, or at least how Bad News could be improved as technology advances.  Currently, I have only noticed generative gameplay in games like Terraria or Minecraft, where entire worlds are generated by AI, and so different playthroughs are unique; I would not be surprised to see games in the future where even characters and dialogue are randomly generated.  I think the next logical step for Bad News would be for the game to be so automated that there would not need to be a mediator to communicate to actors.  For example, in the game’s current state, the mediator had to distinctly type out lines of code to find out that two characters were in love, or that two characters were mortal enemies. I think that as machine learning technology progresses, the computer could understand the relationship between two characters by taking in all these relationships to naturally generate lines of dialogue or narrative text.  I would almost like to see a version of Bad News that could be played at home in the future, where one could talk to different characters and they would respond characteristically live without the need of actors.

Bleeding in acting, gaming, and everyday life

Acting involves stepping into a different character other than yourself and role playing. This often causes bleeding. Out of the two types of bleed, the one that seems to be the most dangerous in my opinion was the spillover from character to player. The feedback loop also does not seem to be too ideal. An example of real-life bleed that had a negative effect was Heath Ledger. Heath was playing the Joker in Batman a few months before and it was said that he was terrified of his character. Some people say that this is what had resulted in his death, but his sister came out and said this was not true. Either way the characters that you have to play in games or while acting can require extreme physical and emotional bleed. Michael B Jordan for example had to completely change his physique which require immense amount of attention to his diet and workouts every single day. Christian Bale is another example of a method actor that goes to extreme lengths to play the character required. His transformation from machinist to dark night is unreal:

Pitchers in baseball, like Goose Gossage, personally put on personas during the playing of a baseball game to come off as an intimidating character. This all went away off the field but the persona still had to be maintained.

I was also trying to think of bleed in everyday life. Many of us ourselves are not truly genuinely playing ourselves in day-to-day lives. We may act differently and try to create our own personal image through this persona. Social Media is an example of bleed in our lives too. Instagrams are typically your brand that you are showcasing to your followers. Some people want people to think their life is perfect, others that they are artsy, etc. Social media seems to have created a bleed feedback loop in our everyday lives.

I wonder if it is a negative to let your desired persona leak into your everyday life. I think bleed can be draining too since it not how you are naturally wired as an individual. Maybe social media causes less of a dramatic bleed than method acting or being involved in an intense game situation. In a previous week’s readings there was an example that after game play, players had had negative effects such as losing their jobs or trouble with their spouses. Bleeding in gameplay in my opinion can be quite dangerous and game designers need to be extremely cognisant of this when creating and assigning characters.

How ethical is netprov?

One of the most interesting aspects of Wittig’s netprov which is “situated at the intersection of literature, drama, mass media, games, and new media” is the latter component, that of “new media”. The opening act, the “time-travel game,” is a “micro-work of imaginative fiction on the spot,” and Wittig aptly surmises that “had [they] all done this in text messages or in Twitter [they’d] have been doing netprov.” The way in which netprov is inextricably tied to social media networks strikes me as somewhat precarious in our current political climate. Summoning back to McIntyre’s warnings of living in a “post-truth” society, a form of play that relies on false narratives, on the moments “of vertigo where people don’t quite know whether it’s real or not” seems to me a slippery slope, especially since netprov and and “fake news” share hostile platforms like Twitter. Mark Marino’s game “Los Wikiless Timespedia” is a good example of a potentially dangerous form of netprov. The game “imagines the Los Angeles Times going completely to an online wiki format and then getting derailed;” considering the contemporary upsurge of “fake news” articles that circulate the web, a game that intentionally uses the template of a news organization seems to be transgressing the ethical boundaries of netprov.

Even more troubling is Wittig’s “idea for a netprov that could be done in conjunction with the Presidential election in the U.S. in the Fall 2012.” Although he is presumably “joking around” in this instant, and that “netprov is usually parodic and satirical” there needs to be careful consideration when crafting netprov or other sorts of alternate reality games. Jane McIntyre warns that “some facts matter more than others” in an era in which individuals interpret truth through their feelings rather than through objectivity (McIntyre 10). Such a netprov may have only comedic and fun-inducing intentions, and yet the outcomes may include political turmoil and chaos.

Despite this skepticism towards certain examples of netprov, other elements of the format are very appealing. For instance, Wittig says that “even though most of the story was carried in Twitter, for “Grace, Wit and Charm” we actually had two nights of live theater at Teatro Zuccone in Duluth.” This idea of translocating a story–from the cerebral, creative, literary realm to that of the real, physical, palpable world–through play is highly appealing, especially since I personally think altering the world through literature is extremely fun: think of Harry Potter World, for instance. Additionally, netprov can, in this way, keep the spirit of literature alive in an increasingly digitized world; in using platforms like Twitter to tell stories, social media no longer caters solely to the “clout” generation.