One of them : Intention note

Posted by (twitter: @oujevipo)
April 20th, 2015 4:51 am

One of them2

(english isn’t ma native language, please pardon me for the mistakes that you will certainly find in this text)

For this Ludum Dare I made a game called One of them, which you can play here. The game being very short and a little spoiler-sensitive, I didn’t want to tell much of it in the description, but I still have a few things to say about it. This is an intention note for the ones who have already played the game. Please DO NOT read further if you haven’t (unless you’re not planing to play it anyway).

 

I’ve always been very interested in newsgames, i.e. games based on real events/facts and conveying a message about them through their gameplay, but never tried to make one. For a while, I had an idea in the back of my head though: using game characters to illustrate statistics. When the theme came out, I immediately saw my chance to make this game, because what are newsgames if not unconventional weapons to inform, persuade and/or raise awareness?

I talked about it with my girlfriend Hélène, who volunteers for a family planning association, and eventually decided to make an unconventional weapon to fight domestic violence. It is ironic because players are used to find “gratuitous” violence in video game. Displaying this violence as a bad thing, makes the game even more unconventional I think.

 

I had this number: 1 woman out of 5 in European Union have been victim of physical and/or sexual domestic violence. It comes from this survey by the European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights.

This number is big, and really worrying, but I wanted to make it “feel” that big, I wanted the player to realise what 1 out of 5 really meant.

My idea was to introduce 5 women characters to the player, and force him to choose which one would have been a victim of domestic violence. But for the game to “work”, I needed to create emotional attachment to the characters first.

To do so, I used different ways:

 

The growth

In One of them, the player get to see the characters growing up. He met them as babies, see them getting taller and taller, going through their adolescence crisis, becoming adults, changing, or not. By the graphics alone, he can imagine what their lives look like, write their little stories in his head.

The traits

The players is also asked to define those characters, to choose which one of them plays music, which one of them still sleeps with her teddy bear, etc. I didn’t wanted those “traits” to define the characters too much, to categorise them (no “one of them has kids”, “one of them has a master degree” etc). Instead, I opted for very insignificant traits, the kind of things you know about a person only when you’re really close to her. The goal being that the player would feel closer to the characters.

The talking

When the player picks a woman, she always make a little comment. It was an easy way for me to give them personality, to make them likeable and relatable. I made sure the women talked as they would talk to a close friend. Every comment is of course unique, it’s also a small way to reward the player’s choices.

The names

Naming someone is, I think, an efficient way to build attachment. But I didn’t want the player to be able to call the characters “asshole” or “sklsdgksdkjld” and ruin the experience. So, I picked five names for the player to give them. The fact that the woman victim of violence is eventually named is a way to show the player that his previous choices in the game weren’t pointless (when in fact, all the other ones are).

The generational link

I considered the women presented to be around my age (born in the 80’s) and hoped the player was too. So I scattered several pieces of culture with which the player would be familiar: the Sega Megadrive (as a kid), Green Day (as a teenager), Game of Thrones (as a grown up)…

The names I’ve chosen are also a way to reinforce this “born in the 80’s” vibe: the five of them are ones of the 20 most given girl names in France in the 80s. That way, I’m pretty sure the player knows at least someone called that way (only if he’s French though).

 

Now that the player felt close to the characters (or at least I hoped so), it was time to convey the message. The “One of them is a victim of domestic violence” sentence is displayed just like the previous ones. I didn’t want to alert the player too fast, I didn’t want to force the indignation, I wanted him to be shocked by the sentence himself and not by some dark/grim elements on screen. It should feel like an injustice, the player should stop and think “I don’t want to choose that! I don’t want to play this game anymore!”. But since I leave him no choice, he’ll eventually pick a woman, and that’s when the game shoots.

The music stops, a punch is heard, the woman isn’t smiling anymore and has a black eye, the other ones disappear and the message is displayed. I was sceptical about the black eye because it’s not how it works: physical domestic violence doesn’t necessarily leave marks, and sexual domestic violence just doesn’t, but it was the most efficient way to express this violence through the very low-res graphics. Showing psychological violence was even harder, so I chose to tell instead of showing for this one.

Another notable difference: this time, the woman doesn’t make any comment. This is supposed to be a way to express that women don’t easily talk about this, even to close friends.

Finding a way to express the message in words wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to “trap” the player and make him feel guilty. I didn’t want (OBVIOUSLY) to put any kind of responsibility on the women. And I certainly didn’t want to offend anyone. My only goal was to to tell the numbers, to make the player “feel” them, and to raise awareness on this subject. I went on with this simple message: “this is never acceptable, nor justifiable, not tolerable”, because I think this is the most important thing to have in mind to prevent/stop domestic violence.

I really hope the game “works”, and I’m interested in every feedback for the purpose of porting it to web. Thanks.

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3 Responses to “One of them : Intention note”

  1. Gaeel says:

    While you didn’t want to “trap the player and make them feel guilty”, I did feel some guilt as I made that last decision and saw healthy, happy, quirky Sandra become sad and hurt. I feel the guilt is worthwhile though, there’s a second message there.

    Obviously, it’s not my fault if so many women are victims of abuse, and in the same way it’s not my fault if the game forces me to pick a fictional woman to become a victim of such abuse. But I *did* click the button and I must own the consequences. In the same way, my inaction and/or my choice to perhaps turn a blind eye to the abuse around me is something I must own, and any guilt I felt in the game is a reflection of the guilt I can feel for real-world abuse, not as an abuser but as someone who isn’t actively combating such abuse.

  2. drludos says:

    Very well thought and well designed game, congratulations. For me, as a player, the game worked exactly as you hoped – attachment to character, followed by a shock at the end, which puts me in the “right” mood to receive such message : not just as a random piece of information (a statistic), but with empathy to this (fictional) character. For a few seconds i tried to click elsewhere to see if there wasn’t a way to “avoid” such an horrible decision.

    Congratulations on creating such a “tiny but efficient” masterpiece – I’ll show it to my non-gamer girlfriend to see how she reacts to it.

  3. Jena says:

    Thanks for that great tool.
    I have to say my mind was going in a completely different direction as the game was unfolding, and I think it’s not too late to think about it. I guess you could now have a lot of research data about racial bias, with the answers from the players?

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