#LivPlays: Games for Change
Last month I went back to NYC not just for the three F’s (food, friends, family). I actually had been planning this trip since April when I found out about the Games for Change Festival. At first I was on the fence because tickets were more expensive than a flight back, but then the staff discounted my ticket to the student price of $99! I was super excited because the festival was going to be about games directed towards neuroscience, education, and social impact.
Even though a year ago I was sure I’d become a game designer, I ended up not exploring game design as my career because mainstream game design is like advertising and indie game design is like art. You either have to really know how to sell, or be really expressive in the right way. Some people have great energy and skills for it, but I found my interests leaning only towards games that deal with tough topics. I love coming up with ideas and stories, but it’s not something I want to make money from.
These three games I played at the festival are good examples of kinds of games I would enjoy making.
A Normal Lost Phone
This game is best played on a phone because it’s designed to resemble an Android-like interface which creates the actual illusion of you finding a lost phone! You have to dig through the contents to figure out who is the owner and what happened to him.
You can read text conversations with other characters in the game, look at photos, find out your location (aka where the owner disappeared), but you do not have Wi-Fi service so your search is limited. The demo version ended when I figured out the Wi-Fi password, so I actually don’t know what happened to the owner.
Back in 2015 an earthquake hit Kathmandu, Nepal. The developer of this game traveled there and interviewed surviving locals to get a sense of their experiences. The game is actually a fundraiser to build a new children’s center during this recovery period.
You play as a girl who makes it through the earthquake, and has to help other villagers get to safety and get treatment. The pace of the game is super slow, as you have to super careful moving people who are injured. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to depict how slow the aftermath of disaster is – the developer is Korean and I couldn’t communicate with him too well.
My Child Lebensborn
This game tells a darker story of how war and hatred don’t just end with a truce. The children of the enemies are adversely affected socially and they do not understand why.
The boy you are taking care of from a first-person storybook perspective is Klaus, who I am assuming is an orphaned son of a Nazi. You have to feed him and keep him happy with limited resources, and help him develop his personality. I don’t think the game is released yet, but I already love how personal it is.
Games for Product
Being in San Francisco has taught me a lot about user-facing products. As you know I’m trying to get my first product or user interface / experience job, but during my free time I’ve been researching game design from a product perspective. Can a game also be a product? I think they can if they are designed with the user in mind! The next two games are good examples of product games.
A few years ago I tried Alphabear because I thought the unique bears were so adorable, and I love to collect things. The game is super hard, so I eventually stopped playing. One of the developers of the game gave a lecture about how to improve the game into an educational experience for the player.
Alphabear is kinda like Scrabble or Words with Friends. You try to make words with available letters to score points. The letters have a countdown of how many turns you can take before they turn into rocks. And rocks are bad, because they prevent the bears from growing. Bigger bears give you more points of course. You need to score higher points to unlock different bears with different powers. My favorite is Tea Bear because she gives you so many extra points on the last turn of the letter T.
At the lecture, the developer presented the new edition. There’s a dictionary feature to define words the player comes up with, which will improve vocabulary. Many times I have somehow build a word with letters and have no idea what it means, so this is super useful for me.
Epic Heroes of Knowledge
Yogome is a studio that develops educational games for pre-school children to learn in a more interactive way, and they design all their work based on educational research. Their games are intended as a product for teachers and parents to use as well. I wish I could have played games as my homework when I was little!
This game contains tons of mini-games in different categories like language, math, science, etc. I think if you complete them you get points to unlock unique characters which you can use for fighting games.
Did I just plug myself? 😉 My thesis was NOT part of the festival because instead of finishing the game this year, I decided to pick it apart and redesign it with the user in mind. This is a screenshot of what I have as of now. It is a narrative story involving different characters that help the player character discover a secret slave trade. I know the my art style looks very happy right now, but I plan on focusing more on user-centered design and eventually finding an artist to improve it.
My original design was not very intentional and was very self-centered. I just wanted my players to read what I had to say in my 120-page thesis paper translated into game dialogue, prove to them slavery is wrong, and get them to join me to fight it somehow. Most people already know slavery is wrong, and I think if we knew exactly what we could do to stop it, we would not even hesitate. But it’s not that simple.
At the festival I saw a role-playing game about a young girl abducted into prostitution and what she goes through at a brothel. I spoke with the developer and was told that it’s not graphic, but will let you experience all the emotions and cruelty first-hand. I don’t like criticizing other people’s work, but that game did it for me. I do not understand at all why anyone needs to experience that, even through a game.
That game stood out to me because like my game, it was designed to raise awareness about slavery. From what I’ve been learning, I don’t think mass marketing will get more people to take action. People will take action if it’s something that reaches them at the right time, if they are in the right place to do so. Taking action isn’t a magic wand that will make things happen. I think growing yourself is the best action you can take to make your impact when the time is right.
I’m going to keep the storyline of Florian the same, or almost the same, but I want it to focus more on relationships the player character develop with the characters so he can grow to who he needs to be at the end of the game. No spoilers for that though. 🙂