Preface: I’ve started to build out my advisory board for my project and am excited to say that Christina Wodtke, my professor for CS377G Serious Digital Games, has agreed to join on!
I dropped by Christina’s office hours to catch up and get her thoughts on my Masters project. I shared with her that throughout this quarter, I’ve felt stuck on moving forward with my project because I’ve been waiting on finding a writer to collaborate with. My hesitation is two-fold 1) since my game centers a marginalized group I am not a part of, I want to develop the game in partnership with someone who is 2) since the game is so narrative-driven, it’s hard to flesh out ideas without having a sense of what the plot will be (and I’m waiting to determine the plot based on the 1). Christina understood my concerns and agreed that my priority would be to find a collaborator.
In the meantime, she suggested I try a strategy she uses to get unstuck with writing: one sentence, one paragraph, one page. I shared with her a couple of general ideas I had, and she told me to try writing them out at different lengths. Through this exercise, she said I’d have a better grasp of which ideas could expand into a full game. She also suggested I check out the podcast Writing Excuses for more advice on getting started.
We also talked about various games, including Virginia, Papers Please, and Darfur is Dying. Virginia is a first-person mystery adventure that is not about discrimination explicitly; however, the player plays as an African-American female and experiences instances of discrimination. I had visited Christina after she played it the first time a couple of months ago and I remember vividly how struck she was by the game. She suggested that if my game is to be opt-in, it’s advisable to make discrimination a subplot within a larger game plot like Virginia. Papers Please is similar. On the surface the game is about checking border papers and letting people through. However, as the game progresses an emergent dynamic is the complexity of why and how the player is deciding who to let through. Papers Please is also an excellent example of a game that makes you think because its core loop is so tight. The only thing you do throughout the game is check papers and decide who goes through or not. Yet, from this simple core loop, complex issues about assumptions and who we deem as a threat are raised. Darfur is Dying is a game about kids trying to get water. I have not played yet, but plan to do so soon.
She also pushed me to think about the “poetics of interaction” that players would do in the game. This reminded me of an article we read in her class titled “Mechanics is the Message.” It was a reminder to make sure the player takes or chooses actions which meaningfully convey the message.