Digital Narrative Games

I think people who design games are absolute geniuses. It takes a lot of understanding and creativity to be able to create a game. (I know because I’ve tried) And ever since I realized the complexity of games, I’ve come to appreciate them as I play.

I played 2 games during class and 3 at home and there are a few thoughts on these games starting with the game “Spent”. The game allows the player to make choices with a tight budget in order to experience what life could be like in poverty. With each choice comes a trade off and this was sometimes frustrating while playing. The statistics and information given in between each question was for me, compact and useful and conveyed the purpose of the game well. I’ve noted down a few observations throughout the game and I’ll share them in order.

First, like being given a choice between the offered jobs, it would have been better to be able to choose the house as well. However, by the end of the game I realized that many poor people don’t have that option or might just have to go for whatever housing is available. The types of choices I was making was also changing as I progressed through the game, for example, there were many times that I chose to ignore my illness and depression and even stay hungry in order to not to miss any days at work, and not to spend too much money. Another scenario involved me picking up a $10 bill on the floor and keeping it. These kinds of scenarios and responses never occurred to me. I was frustrated at my own choices too: I refused to go to a friend’s wedding, and let my pet suffer. These were choices I didn’t exactly want to make but had to, because of the limited money and the bills, insurance and other things I was paying.

Not only that, but to secure my job, I had to avoid any other commitments within the working hours, and had to avoid all sorts of conflicts, and that felt kind of humiliating. For example to apply for a scholarship for my gifted kid, I had to miss a day at work, and to avoid problems I had to be silent about overhearing people talking in a mean way behind my back. This led me to think about people who tolerate horrid working conditions (like not being able to have a sick leave for example) and are mistreated at work, and still go because of their need for the money. This is especially true in case there’s a family too. Which brings me to a very interesting observation I’ve made about myself in this game: whenever a question came up that involved paying something for my kid, I ALWAYS paid. This was funny because I never thought of myself as a person who will be that kind of parent later on. It could be due to the fact that I wanted any character in the game to experience a better life than the one I was having.

I played this game 3 times, and in the last time I did, I almost got the hang of the game and ended the month with $387. The idea of the remaining money at the end of the game/month is smart in the sense that it gives the player some kind of score to compare with others and to keep track of achievements. I would suggest that this game becomes a series of interlinked events rather than independent choices of questions, in the sense that it would become more of a story than a series of circumstances.

I then moved on to play the BBC Syrian Refugees game. The refugee issue was something that I had just read about last week in Lina Mounzer’s article and had read about it in an academic way in a sociology course that I took a few semesters ago. Reading about a topic whether an article or a social media post, is entirely different than being in these people shoes and having to make life changing decisions as them.
The information written before every choice is written well, but the language is not very intimate, so as I make the choices I’m not completely indulged in the character, as opposed to the Depression Quest game that I will be discussing in just a bit. Maybe because it’s a BBC sponsored game, and the BBC being a formal news entity would keep things professional? Not sure, but I would suggest bringing some more realistic images and using the words of the people who contributed with their stories to help improve this game.
At some point in the game, I had to choose between buying supplies at the moment or waiting for a bit in order not to be caught. I had earlier chosen to go to Egypt in order to go through Libya. Being known and deported is not something I hear of here in Egypt for Syrians, at least not when you’re casually buying supplies, so knowing the nature of Egypt, made me choose to buy the supplies then and there, as there is no fear of getting caught.
The common concerns about making any choice in this game is the risk of being caught and deported, the risk of drowning, and the risk of paying money to a person who isn’t trustworthy, so every time I’d decide on the trade off based on the context and I had to keep in mind that risk.

I played this game also 3 times, and overall it’s not very long (I’ve tried to vary my responses each time). It could have been made longer to incorporate more details of their life, but generally speaking, it was a game that had me thinking about how I was making such choices at my home in front of the computer while there are real people who are making such decisions on the spot and are pressured to act upon these decisions even if it will cost them their life.

When I went home I played 3 other games. The first being the sleep deprived mom game. This was less intense than the ones I had played before. (Disclaimer: I don’t like kids and I think if I ever have children I’m going to be so rude to them) So it was easy to empathize with moms in this game because I’m not a kids person. I’m also a person who can’t function without a good sleep, so that was more of a reason to feel for all the mommas out there. The game structure was easy and comfortable and at the same time informative because the feedback at the end was in my opinion very useful. A lot of times I was unsure how to respond. The first couple of questions, my priority was only to sleep, and I found that it wasn’t exactly working and I was wasting hours of sleep anyway. When I chose to read the book or Skype with my friend, I felt that these options were good and rewarding even though I lost some sleep doing them. I also played this 3 times to experience all the possible results and realized on the second and third time that my choices on the first round might not have been the wisest.

The Depression Quest game was my favorite. I didn’t get the chance, however, to play it more than once as it is a very long game. The game involves a lot of details about a person battling depression. The good thing was that I managed to reach the end of the game with a better mental and emotional health (the game character was getting treatment and improving). There are a lot of aspects about the game that make it very similar to a real life experience. First, a lot of what was written was relatable to me(And no, I don’t have depression, I just have days that are similar to what was written on there). So the fact that I found what was written relevant was an interesting start. However, the options and responses for each question was at times irrelevant to me or not very relatable. The good thing: there were many options to choose from. The hard thing: the more the character was depressed, the less options I had to choose from. This got me thinking about the kinds of thoughts that depression brings to one’s mind, and how it affects their attitude, in the sense that a lot of time I refused social hangouts and was unable to get out of bed to go to work in the morning.

Hesitating and overthinking about all the details is not something I (as Ayah) usually do, but playing the game brought my attention to these kinds of things, while thinking about getting the cat from Sam, or going to see the therapist or even talking to certain people (Alex, Attic, mom, Amanda) about my mental state, and the extent of the information I was providing to the people around me. It was interesting also to discover that the game character was a male, because I was playing thinking it was a female in the beginning. (I’m sorry this is going to sound sweeping, but I never pictured or associated a guy with depression – weird) The very good thing about the story line of the game is that it was laid out to highlight the good people who are understanding of mental illnesses like Alex and Attic and Amanda, these people helped in getting me (the game character) through many things and making me feel welcomed and heard. The game portrays the typical fears and horrors of a depressed person and hints at elements that can push them into feeling better.

At the bottom of the page there were boxes that showed the status of the character and what they were feeling, and this ranged from depressed, to very depressed and towards the end, when they were seeing a therapist and getting medication it was getting milder and milder. I honestly felt achieved by the end of the game because I realized that I can play a role in the life of a depressed person and that I can at least help pull them out by doing the things that Alex, Attic and Amanda did in the game, and they wouldn’t have done that if it weren’t for the choices I made in the first place, to see them, to talk and share with these people and so on. But at least I know that I can provide a warm platform for my depressed friends so that they can consider talking and seeking help. I would suggest adding more visuals to the game to balance out the amount of text that is written within each page.

The third game I played is a game about teen violence and abuse. The game’s idea is interesting but the implementation could have been more sophisticated. It shows a girl who goes to her significant other’s house and during the time (there’s a timer that counts down to when he is done so all the searching has to be done within that time) he is in the kitchen preparing dinner, the user searches for clues inside the house that could hint to his personality. For example, I found some speeding tickets and court summons in a drawer, too many bottles of alcohol on the desk where he works and so on. What was interesting is that the beginning of the game, the givens about the guy make him seemingly harmless, but later on in the game, the clues only indicate that he is a violent figure. The game could have been made more complex by making the clues more subtle or adding elements that are more realistic. But as an idea, I liked it and I think it’s important to be able to spot signs of abusive people early on. I played the game 3 times as well, and each time the name and scenario changed. One of the times the guy turned out to be a good guy- haha.

I did search a lot for empathy-related games but many of them weren’t as interesting as the ones I played earlier. There was a game about LGBTQ people but I didn’t understand how to play it and found myself closing it midway because I got too confused.

There was a game that I really wanted to play but couldn’t because I had to play it on Explorer and when I did install it to play the game, I had to install more plugins and it didn’t work at the end for some reason. The game is called “Auti-Sim”  which is game to help people empathize with and understand Autistic children. Basically the game involves a character that moves around a playground with other children, and whenever they are close to others, the screen blurs and the audio becomes distorted, illustrating what the child feels in the presence of other people. (that’s what I read)

Overall, I think the common thing between all the games was that they wanted to place the person playing the game in the shoes of someone who is experiencing a suffering of some sort. They all lack the presence of the visual element, but are interactive in different ways. Spent has the best game interface of the ones I played, the other ones were more concerned with the content/information presented rather than how it is presented. The amount and quality of information in the Depression Quest was the best and really put me in the zone of the game. Also it had more options to choose from than the rest of the games, and the options were realistic. The last game about violence wasn’t text based, and so I was moving the game character and pressing on tables/drawers to see what was on/inside them. This element gave it more of a game style, and the text at the end and beginning of the game served the informative part of the game. The sleep deprived mom had the most constructive feedback after each answer, and I think this is important to know if the decisions being made are contributing positively to the user’s knowledge and empathy or not. This element could have been incorporated in the BBC refugee game and Spent for example. Maybe there could be a metric to measure that the game outcomes/purposes have been fulfilled or not. But then again, judging a game as a gamer, is much easier than sitting to design the game; a task that we will be working on for a while..


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