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.

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