Bad News is a fascinating game because, despite being procedurally generated, it still greatly relies on those running it to create a cohesive narrative. When the world is simulated, all of the information regarding the interactions of inhabitants in the town is stored in around 400 variables (according the the developer). This info is then displayed to the singular actor as they portray all characters is limited. It contains the demographic information of the character, as well as various personality measures which give the actor vague boundaries to act within. However, what it does not contain is the details of that person’s life prior to the present, and the interactions they have had with all the inhabitants of the town. This information is all relatively baseline, with the true narrative being pulled manually from other aspects of the code.
For this, the developers live code and find snippets of information which lead to the creation of a story. The game is focused around the interactions of these simulated townsfolk, including their interpersonal relationships and business ventures. In the case of the play through we were watching, the coder noticed and proceeded to focus on the fact that the deceased woman was in love with the principal of the school in which she worked. The code does not say anything about whether this love was acted upon, but the developer’s created the rule that they will treat it as such if both characters are found to have an affinity for one another, which was the case here. As such the story turned into one about love triangle, with the deceased’s husband being the one left out in the cold. The amount of time he spent at a local bar was taken to mean that he was depressed and drinking his life away, when it came to the way the actor portrayed him in the entire scene. Though we never met the woman or the person she was supposedly having an affair with, this information colored every interaction the player had with the actor. The actor, as other members of the town, consistently hinted that the relationship between the deceased and her husband was not well, playing into the narrative of unrequited love in the face of an untimely death.
The use of a singular actor throughout the experience meant that there is a good degree of bleed which occurs within the game. As discussed in the Bowman reading, this is when “experience moments where their real life feelings, thoughts, relationships, and physical states spill over into their characters’ and vice versa.” However, I contend that in this case, there are two types of bleed at play in the case of Bad News. The first is as she defined, and occurs due to the knowledge which the actor possesses about the overarching narrative. They are consciously aware of the game narrative from the perspective of the game runner as well as that of the actor. For instance, the actor indicated knowledge of an affair as a character who was not in close proximity with the situation because this is the information which was conveyed to him.
The other sort of bleed is that the way in which the actor portrayed previous characters affected the way in which he performed as others within the context of the same game. The actor is improvising based on such limited material, with plot details being hastily conveyed over skype as questions are asked by the player. This leaves the actor with little information to occupy their primary mental faculties other than the previous interaction and increases the likelihood that certain traits or topics might be carried across. For instance, if the actor already had an in-character discussion regarding the affair of the deceased then they might be more likely to discuss it when playing another character
This sort of bleed also arises from the fact that the game is a prime example of a problem-seeking activity, as laid out within Sawyer’s Improvisation and the Creative Process. Such behaviors focus on the active engagement of the artist with the work during the process of creation itself, seeking innovative and new ways of taking its direction rather than acting in accordance with a pre-set plan. The way in which the narrative emerges from the code is a prime example of this, as the game begins with a simulation. Only through active engagement and dialogue with the code interface do the developers, spectators and, hence, the player become aware of anything within the story. It is not told to anyone, it is discovered through what is effectively an ongoing question-and-answer session with a computer. While the actor is improvising the way in which the information is communicated to the player, the coder is also improvising in the way in which they retrieve said information in the first place.
The game of Bad News is effectively an extended conversation between a coder and a simulation, with the gleamed details being communicated to the player via the improvisational actions of a single person. Hence the game is an example of emergent narrative, with no pre-set course of which any of the participants are aware prior to the experience’s start. What results is fascinating, because it is both a result of computer systems and procedural generation and the product of active guiding via human inputs. Though the world is randomly created the story is not, and it is told just as much through what the coder chooses to search as it is the way in which the actor chooses to convey the characters.