Justice Post-Mortem

Posted by (twitter: @nintendoeats)
April 30th, 2013 9:40 pm

Justice is a game. Barely. It is as little of a game as it is possible to make while still technically being a game. I made it in around 20 hours in Unity. It contains seven sprites and one sound. It has received a vast array of responses, from frustration to deep engagement.

Justice screen0

Objective and reasoning:

The idea (inspired by several of the possible themes) was to make a game in which the player  has to make a decision about whether or not to sentence somebody to death in the American justice system. This has to relationships to minimalism. Firstly, the justice system theoretically wants to minimize its invasiveness, so the discussion of whether or not ending a criminal’s life is one of deciding how much punishment is “the smallest effective amount”. Secondly, if we accept capital punishment as a theory we also need to decide when we have enough information to justify an execution. Since we cannot possibly know everything, me must decide what is “the least fair amount of information that is relevant”.

The Game:

There is some fairly ridiculous setup that puts the player in a situation where they have limited time to ask questions before making the final decision about putting a woman named Fadiyah to death. They cannot possibly ask all of the available questions in that time, and they have a piece of evidence that changes the answers which they may introduce at any time. After the questioning period they have a small amount of time to think and then they are asked to make a decision.

Success of the Mechanics:

The biggest problem that users mentioned was pacing. Some people enjoyed it , but most people were frustrated by the amount of time it took for new text to come up. This is something that I was concerned about, and it’s not as easy to solve as one might think. The pacing serves two purposes: it makes questions take longer which runs down the timer (you cannot “listen faster ” as my dad once wrote on his office wall), and it provides valuable information about the tension in the room when somebody says something. If somebody has to wait 5 seconds to say something, they are probably (but not always) hiding something. I clearly need to do something about this, but I don’t have a solution yet. The answer might lie in giving the player some minor distraction to keep them from getting bored after they have finished reading the content of a sentence.

Some players also did not realize that Fadiyah’s answers changed after the player introduced the previously mentioned piece of evidence. I tried to make this clear in the writing, but that obviously didn’t work for everyone. I think the answer here is a better method for displaying the question list: I didn’t make it clear enough that questions the player had previously asked were re-added to the list.

The overall structure and theme seems to have been successful with all of the players, the major issue was pacing.

Success of the Writing:

Most users applauded the writing as a high point. I was originally positive about it, but ultimately feel that it was a bit too utilitarian (this is good for the game mechanically, but makes it feel a bit less reactive).

More interesting is the question of how sympathetic to make Fadiyah. I tried to write her so that, knowing the answers to all of the questions, I was unable to make a decision. While I don’t fall hard either way, I am generally anti-capital punishment and so probably made her a little bit too easy to dislike. One user accused me of writing her as an Arab stereotype, and it didn’t occur to me until after I responded that he may have been referring to her fairly violent reaction to external pressure. The two aspects of her were created separately: She needed to be fairly cold for the crime to play out as I wanted, and I made her an Arab primarily because it’s something different and provides some reason for her to be sympathetic: cultural differences and racism make for a difficult living situation, particularly for expatriate Arabs in the United States.

In the end, people didn’t seem to sympathize with Fadiyah much.  It’s hard to judge this since few people directly commented on it, but that was the impression I got. The fact that people only got the information that they felt was important enough to ask about probably influenced this as well, since the most obvious question (how the crime was committed) has an answer that is difficult to forgive.

Looking Forward:

I don’t want to redo this exact game, because I think that I explored the death penalty as well as I can with this particular toolset and this moment in time. This may not be the last you see of Ben McCoy though. Of course, I might give him a less copyright infringing name next time >_>

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