Vaida, student & indiedev. Experimenting with games, interest in making short personal experiences. Talk name - games as bridges of communication between player/creator. Postmortem of a game i made TRUST.
Physical game. Two envelopes - one “open first”, the other “open when you are done exploring.” I gave them to a close friend and asked them to open them when they had five minutes of peace & quiet.
The first one contains a wide range of information that relates to personal life - pictures I took when I was in middle school, facebook messages, phone screenshots, poems that I wrote. It is a game about the passage of time and the complex feelings that emerge when you look back.
They are not dated, and there is no puzzle to solve or secret narrative to find. I won’t tell you what the second envelope contains just yet.
Feedback from the close friend: expected a pack of questions in one envelope and a pack of answers in the other. When they saw contents: puzzle. Searched for clues, tried sorting by chronological order.
Interesting: affected them, felt nostalgic. Didn’t know the people in some of the pictures. That was key: “showed experiences i never”. Most important feedback on slide.
I would like to argue that if a total stranger, rather than a close friend, played this game, it wouldn’t have had the same effect on them. But more on that later.
Released it on itch.io with accompanying notes, but uncomfortable sharing some pictures on there; so the people that download it can’t really play it properly. I don’t really want people to play it; I was more interested in providing some food for thought. The actual game experience was not meant for them, but for the singular person.
Truth is: i lied to that person. I gave them & told them I was testing the game. They weren’t testing the game; they were playing the game for the first and last time. This was an experience that I designed for them only - I wanted to get closer to them, but I just didn’t know how to communicate the thoughts in my head, complex, hard to put into words. -> I DID WHAT I KNOW HOW TO DO BEST. MADE A GAME.
Games can be communications about personal thoughts (Cibele /Sybil/), political (Papers Please), but they’re made in a way that allows them to be played by the general public.
I am very interested in the idea of making games that can’t be played by everyone and with which everyone cannot empathise, because they require you to know the creator personally.
In other art forms, people create pieces meant for close friends only impulsively, and those pieces serve as bridges between the two individuals. Why can’t we use games, for example a game we jam in 4 hours, to do the same thing?
It wasn’t just a tool of communication between me/person playing, but also allowed me to better understand what I was trying to say. Just like writing about something forces you to think about how to put what you are feeling into words, and gives you another perspective on the subject.
Illustrate this with an example of game design choice that mattered in TRUST & what it made me understand: Shuffling -- wasn’t happy with the order the pictures were in. Shuffled, but then started adjusting. Shuffled again. Didn’t want the person to see a certain picture first, because i felt it was too “heavy” and would influence their perspective of the game too much. Then i realised -- if I didn’t want the player to focus on that particular part of me, why did I include it in the first place? I obviously wanted the player to notice it, but at the same time i was afraid of sharing it.
By designing the game, I was able to notice more clearly with what parts of the communication process I was having trouble with. I was able to pinpoint that in this case, what was stopping me from talking to the person was not the fact that I would have to share personal information with them, but the fact that I wouldn’t know where to begin and felt that every way of presenting the information would allow for misinterpretation. This cannot really be avoided, in real life or in a game. Realising this gave me more confidence in finishing the game and giving it to the person.
Another point: by having the game be less “shaped by me” due to the random order, it made me feel as if it was more separate from me, existed on its own. The communication was less direct between me and the player, and this higher degree of distance allowed me to feel safer and willing to share more easily.
This is also a game for me, the creator. I am unsure what to expect.
A few questions I asked myself during development.
If they interpret it differently, can the game still be dubbed a success? My goal was not to provide them with an interesting experience as much as it was to tell them something concrete. I wanted to say something specific. Not open to interpretation in the same way more general personal games are.
The player might decide to clear up their misconceptions with me by discussing the game after they’ve played it; however this is entirely up to them. Should I ask them for more extensive feedback to prevent misunderstandings, or allow the game to remain in their minds unchanged?
Most importantly, will the game alienate us or bring us closer?
Preparing talk, tweeted about theme: player/creator communication, and a person named Julien tweeted at me saying that they made BLUE because they didn’t know how to communicate with a friend. “it ended up being the most important game I ever made”. Comparison with a mind palace, reflection of how they feel.
Even though anyone can play it on itch.io, only that one person will get the full experience.
Games of this kind are being made all the time, but they are always adapted, to a certain extent, to fit with a wider audience and to not alienate them, but allow them to empathise better. That is of course, makes sense, that is the goal, but leaves this other possibility unexplored. We shy away from making specifically personal games because they are very raw and emotionally hard to make. I think it would be interesting for people to explore making small games that only one person can get, and if you do it right, it’ll be worth the effort.
To illustrate what these games could look like, examples of well-known games and how they could be different.
What if the prototype for Downwell had levels that represented anxieties that the player was having that related to their relationship with that particular player?
What if The Beginner’s Guide was less ambiguous, contained real names and its only copy was sent out to Coda?
What if Her Story was about a person sharing the background of a relative that had made some poor choices in life with the rest of the family?
As promised - The second envelope contained only one piece of paper - a thank you for playing note and a quote by Hellen Keller - “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Thank you for playing.