Bad News- M. Antohi

            Something that really struck me after the Bad News gameplay session was James Ryan’s comment that, to him at least, the lives of all the people in the computer-generated “towns” used in each session of Bad News were real lives. Tiny computer lives, but real lives all the same. This made me wonder what a valid definition of “real” would consist of, especially in the context of attributing this quality to a life. To Ryan, and the other people running Bad News, it seemed that the lives of the computer characters in their game possessed the characteristics necessary for them to qualify as “real” lives.

            Thinking about what might qualify these computer lives as “real”, I tried to think of all the qualities that these computer lives have in common with the lives of real people. For one thing, it seemed that the lives of the characters created by the town generator were just as if not more complicated than the lives led by real people. The tens of extremely detailed variables that the town generator set for every single character included variables about the appearance, relationships, and occupations of each character. Of course, these aspects of the lives of the computer characters were much better documented than they would be in real life, as a real person’s private information, such as their love interests and the degree of strength of their relationships with given friends, would not be accessible by anyone except for the person themselves, and probably would not be as well defined by even that person as they were in the gameplay session.

            Another important quality of the computer character lives was the impact that they had on the audience, including myself. As the gameplay session went on, I found myself becoming more and more invested and caught up in the lives of the people in the fictional town and the connections between them, including their friendships, work relationships, and love interests. Hearing the delivery of the bad news seemed to impact the audience to a greater degree than I would have expected at the beginning of the session. Seeing the townspeople and their history be created and then destroyed before our eyes, and learning the details about the realistically intricate lives of the characters, helped us all develop a sense of intimacy and empathy with the characters. Perhaps the emotion that we felt upon hearing the delivery of the bad news is also a testament to the “realness” of the lives of the computer-generated characters.

            With regard to two of the theorists from past readings, I believe that this gameplay session incorporated elements of gamification of traditionally nongame events, as well as elements of games designed for prosocial causes. As discussed in “Worlding through Play: Alternate Reality Games, Large-Scale Learning, and The Source” by Patrick Jagoda, Melissa Gilliam, Peter McDonald, and Chris Russel, “gamification—the use of game mechanics in traditionally nongame activities—has come to influence areas as diverse as business, personal leisure, and social life” (75). Bad News brings an aspect of gamification to a situation of trauma which is not playful, even within the game. However, I believe that this gamification helps the audience learn about how to act in this sort of situation, and develop their social awareness by making them adopt new perspectives as they watch and attempt to help the single player navigate the imaginary town. In relation to games designed for prosocial causes, the Bad News gameplay session forced the players and audience to think about ways in which to delicately navigate the aftermath of a traumatic event, and to consider how best to deliver the titular bad news to a person who will most likely be very affected by it. I believe that Bad News therefore helped us develop our readiness to interact with people who have been affected in the aftermath of trauma, as Geoff Kaufman and Mary Flanagan discussed in “A Psychologically ‘Embedded’ Approach to Designing Games for Prosocial Causes”, using “a direct, explicit approach to engage players with serious real-life scenarios and present information about key societal issues.”

** reference and apply at least two of the theorists from the readings

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