Bad News and Death

As the creators of Bad News prepared themselves for the start of their game I expected their world and characters to be fully scripted and handcrafted for the event. I was taken by surprise when the game master, or “wizard” as he referred to himself, opened up a python script which procedurally generated the world of the game.  The script simulated 150 years of relationships, jobs, and families in order to create the town that the player explored, each person the program created had a remarkable depth to them with at least 100 variables to each person. These variables ranged from their appearance to their love interests in the town and reminded me of the simulated characters from the video games Dwarf Fortress and Rimworld. Of this pool of characters one is selected to die and it is the player’s job to deliver the “Bad News” to their next of kin. What followed was not just an interesting narrative of a stranger exploring this small world of the game, but a conversation on how death is handled in games.

In most games, especially video games, death is a trivial manner to the overall structure of the game. Players can die and come back to life within seconds and many games involve the death of many non-player characters with little to no importance to the game at large. Bad News flips the situation entirely, making death a much more somber and emotional moment for the player and the world. By speaking to those who knew the dead subject the player and the audience is able to learn so much about the life they lived and how they touched the people around them. All this without ever actually speaking to this deceased character ever. Death is not portrayed as a trivial thing in the world but as something that has long-lasting impacts on the whole world and those who inhabit it. Bad News also shows how death is an inevitability that us humans strive to cope with.

Early on the gamemasters revealed to us that there are billions of possible unique outcomes for their simulation, meaning that each playthrough takes place in a unique setting with unique people. Once the game was finished the gamemaster quit the program, effectively erasing the generated world from existence. Due to the sheer number of variables and possible outcomes, it is impossible to create that world again even if you had several computers generating new outcomes a second. (Unless, of course, you’re astronomically lucky…) This made the idea of death within the game much more intimate because even if we play the game again for a billion times, we’ll never find ourselves in that world again. Much like how the dead are gone forever, we left that world forever.

2 thoughts on “Bad News and Death

  1. You noted how, after the game, the town generated leaves us forever. This reminds me of Heidi’s comment in class on how hard it is to document an ARG. After Bad News, I’m struck by how much game makers are aware of things players do not know–the relationships of Alberta’s worst enemy, which excited us substantially, are almost totally left out in the player-actor interactions. Patrick also mentions that the players of S.E.E.D. did not see two alternate endings because their actions directed the game to the third. It hence occurs to me that the experience of game designers and the visions they have for the game, maybe are as, if not more, game-like than the game itself.
    Bad News also demonstrates how much game designers may not know about their game–we’ve only saw a few segments of the 150-year town history, while much of it remained buried and may never be unearthed. This sets it apart from ARGs–where designers may know of their world more comprehensively. I wonder what this difference in knowledge brings to/takes from ARGs.

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  2. On the topic of death in Bad News, I think what surprised me the most was that I did not think that such somber/grave topics would transfer well in a game where elements were so computerized and randomized. I did not think that I would find myself attached to the characters because I would always remind myself in the back of my head that the death was only generated through a simple line of a code. Like you said, however, the game ended up being extremely emotional at the end and I found myself to be extremely sympathetic toward the characters, which I did not expect.

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