Game Design / Emotional Game Jam
Team: Tistou Blomberg, Hector Meija
Role: game designer, illustrator
Part of: Emotional Game Jam
I'm really passionate about game narrative and how mechanics that can enhance emotional rsponce to games. That's why I gathered a team and participated in Emotional Game Jam, an online game jam open game makers all over the world. The event took 48 hours and we were given a theme, which was revealed in steps over the course of those 2 days. The target was to create a game that can impact human emotions, which turned out to be no easy task.
My main task was to define game mechanics, coordinate work and produce the game art.
Theme #1: "Every step brings us closer to death"
We started off with a short brainstorming session what the first theme part meant to us, we connected it with ultimate truth - after all we all die, with fear - being scared of moving forward, with depression - negative thinking and lack of purpose, but also with re-birth - death doesn't have to be the end.
Game mechanics overview
We took the theme very literally and drafted a mechanic where each move caused a slow deterioration. To visualize that we put several characters on a grid, with one distinct character controlled by the player. Every move the player makes causes the others to start cracking and eventually dissolving.
The player can choose to approach another character and either give a part of itself or take a piece of that other character. Those actions decide which of the three different endings the player will reach.
We hoped to convey the message that one can go about their life not interacting with others in any meaningful way, passively observing, and achieve an end that's just fine, nothing special. One can also help others, share part of themselves, or accept the kindness of others, which won't really slow down the death but the sense of contribution will have a positive impact. Lastly, the opposite of that - harrassing others and causing damage to them will lead to darkness. Most importantly though, balancing those behaviors is not easy - sometimes you need to be a bit selfish to help later, and sometimes no matter what you do, you can't help everyone.
Setting and art
To help visualize the metaphor we set the starting grid in a city surrounding with tall buildings and roads. However, to not push the metaphor too far, we kept the characters somewhat abstract instead of making them look like people. This also allowed to easily implement the mechanics of cracking and desolving with very clear character states. To add a bit of humanity to the squeres, they would expand slightly as if they were breathing.
Game jams usually encourage simplicity, so the art style for the most part was limited to what's most feasible and conveys hopefully enough meaning.
Theme #2:"Those eyes"
Having already defined quite a lot of game design direction that next theme part added some twists. By then we have already defined the giving/taking mechanics, and the state change from light to darkness.The eyes, in fact, fit in quite nicely with the whole. The evil red eyes would start popping around watching you and making you uncomfortable, as if your selfish actions were feeding the red-eyed monsters.
From the start we knew we needed to limit ourselves to a simple 2D game, due to the time limit of 48 hours and team size of 2,5 people (only two were able to work full time). We have also decided to try out new gaming engine - Defold - that none of us has previously worked with, so that threw in a couple extra complications along the way.
We decided that a minimalistic grid-based game with branching endings based on gameplay would be most feasible and hopefully convey enough meaning.
One of the main challenges was in regards to the emotions part - it's quite hard to make people feel something for a square, that also doesn't have any particular story. Emotional response seems to be quite often tied to the visuals. Another big challenge was trying to be overly moralizing and not fall into stereotypes. Given enoough time those challenges can be discussed and overcome, in a setting on where only quick decisions take place it's incredibly difficult.
Takeaways & Learnings
This game jam felt particularly hard, but it was a great learning experience! Despite my thesis resarch it's really challenging to create a game that trigger's players emotions. Especially being a very small and not-very-experienced team.
I understood better the role of game designer and how important it is to take decisions and communicate them clearly.
While studying Human-Computer Interaction I wrote a thesis about the potential of single-player video games to help us develop empathy through experincing situations we wouldn't encounter in real life.