Individual Game Design: Initial Ideas

The week seven class brainstorm was an interesting exercise and I generated more solid ideas than I imagined I could come up with in ten minutes. Despite this, I’ve decided to remain with my initial plan to combine my game with my artefact for BCM325: Future Cultures, based on the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) game theme, which traditionally appears in book form. However, I will be producing my game digitally. Although the legacy-style CYOA books are experiencing diminished popularity, video games adopting this theme are a “booming industry” (Tyndale et. al 2016), perhaps because narrative acts as a significant support structure for adventure-style games (Dickey 2006).

The original inspiration was one of my favourite childhood books which was based in a medieval world populated with dragons and knights. The story unfolded in a CYOA style to engross the user in a quest to save the kingdom. My story, however, will not be a quest, but an exploration. One potential challenge will be establishing a balance between a ‘fun’ game that my audience wants to play, and one that explores the philosophy of simulation theory, a much more serious and thoughtful theme.

bcm300
A representation of a generic blueprint for a choose-your-own-adventure themed game (source: Geeky Gadgets)

 

I have been working on the same digital artefact (Simulation Mindy) across most of my digital media subjects so far. My most recent feedback for this project, at the end of DIGC202: Global Networks, suggested I consider open-source narrative as a potential avenue for this project to develop further. I’m currently putting together an interactive exploration of simulation theory for Future Cultures. This plays with the notion of future humanism and the idea that our universe is completely simulated by a computer. Once the basics of simulation theory have been sufficiently explored in this game, the story will branch out into a more ‘classic Mindy’ style narrative. Although the latter half of this project will complement the first half, it will also act as a standalone story. This part of the project is what I’m aiming to pitch as my game for BCM300: Game Making.

I had already begun constructing a prototype of this game via WordPress, however Richard has since mentioned there are various platforms and apps designed specifically to make these stories easy to construct, such as Twine. For now, I plan to stick with WordPress, but the potential to build this further through other platforms will sit at the back of my mind.

Similar Games

Similar products include the CYOA novel House of Danger, which comprises of 144 pages and 20 possible different endings, so a larger scale than my end artefact is likely to be. It’s written in second-person narrative and the story centres around escaping the House of Danger. My story will be written in third-person narrative to encourage the reader to take on two different personas; one is the quantum computer scientist designing a simulation experiment, and the second is the unassuming product of that experiment.

 

warning
An excerpt from House of Danger (source: ibid)

 

Mechanics

The mechanics in this game currently comprise of a WordPress URL for each potential option. Every so often the story reaches a dead end, which explains to the responder how their configuration of events has caused the story to halt and provides a link back to the beginning to explore the story in a different way. As such there isn’t really a way to win this game, but merely explore the consequences of two personas’ actions. Being a one-player game, there isn’t a strong competitive element.

Current prototype

The prototype is functional but not complete. This allows me to refine is constantly as I publish it. After experimenting with it, I’m mostly satisfied with its progress thus far, so the next step is to ask others in my target market to test it out and provide feedback.  I’m attempting to increase the ‘fun factor’, which will be more apparent when Mindy’s story opens up at the end of the current character’s story. Because it’s a digital creation, I’ve been able to constantly edit my working prototype.

The initial prototype, which I constructed at the beginning of the semester, is a typed brainstorm that outlines the strands of the story and how they link. Although my ideas are changing dynamically as I move along with this project, I am constantly referring back to this for inspiration.

progress
A segment of my blueprint. As I complete each ‘page’, I highlight it to track my progress.

Target Audience

My main potential target audience lies in the Sims blogging community (which makes up most of my current audience), a somewhat closed niche I came across during the initial construction of my artefact in 2016. Additionally this game could attract an audience comprised of a teenage age group. Although the philosophy theorems I’m unpacking could be understood by the 10-13 age bracket, the mature themes in the later story are not really appropriate for a young audience. Therefore it will be marketed at an MA 15+ audience and I will attempt to ensure the game is enticing enough to capture their attention.

 

 

My Contribution to the Group Game Project

Our final blueprint, The Balancing Act, was very much a collaborative effort between Ashleigh, Zoe, Bec and myself. Although our group dynamic was great, in retrospect this fairly simple game could have been designed with a smaller group. The four of us found it difficult to ensure each person felt they were contributing enough.

Although we all pitched a set of mechanics around our decided concept of the student work/life balance, my set of mechanics was the one we ultimately decided to modify and focus on. I went on to design the cards using Canva, and design and write the rulebook in an infographic format.

 

the balancing act final
Created using Canva

 

My research looked at the vehicles we could potentially use to produce and distribute our game. I found Meeple to be a strong potential manufacturer because of its quality reputation and wide range of game products on the market.

targetau
Source: Google Slides designed by Ashleigh.

 

 

Mechanics of the Game Prototype

After establishing a thematic narrative for our card game, it is essential to structure the story using some mechanics.

Mechanics

Game mechanics provide the framework for players to interact with one another and the game itself. We are working on creating a physical prototype that we can experiment with. The importance of this step is explored in the video above:

When you can actually play your game, you’ll discover all sorts of things that you didn’t account for when you were just designing the game in your head.

When engaging with the prototype it will become more apparent where the mechanics break down or have gaps. It will allow us to engage in our own story and alter the experience if necessary.

Our Game Mechanics

  1. Turns: Each player will take their turns individually in a clockwise rotation until the game ends.
  2. Actions: During their turn, a player can play a maximum of three cards: one action card, one relaxation card and one assessment card. The story of these cards can be understood in my previous blog post.
  3. Randomisers: We have incorporated action cards which act as disruptors to the static gameplay.
  4. Scoring system: relaxation cards (which are not directly used to win the game, but definitely help to build up assessment cards and keep them safe!)

In this game, relaxation is treated as a currency; something to invest in, save, and use to protect against the ‘life’-inspired spins thrown from the action cards. The deck itself must be shuffled prior to gameplay to inspire randomness. Whilst a lot of the cards are standard and repeated throughout the game, several will challenge its mechanics. For example, wild cards for assessments, a “just say no” card, which will counteract any action card played by another player, and various cards designed to let a player steal or swap an assessment (or full collection of assessments) from others.

action2
An example of an action card which disrupts the mechanics of the rulebook

Capture mechanics are also implemented in this game through the use of assessments. The aim of the game is to collect three lots of three assessments for one subject. Although players can retrieve these cards through the deck and the first dealing, they can also steal and trade between each other according to the permissions of various action cards.

The Rule Book

We have constructed our rule book in an infographic style for simplicity:

the balancing act final.png

Target Audience

Our game is both inspired by and aimed at university students. Therefore it’ll be in our best interest to manufacture a game which is inexpensive, small and easily distributed. School students are also a potential audience for us, as they share some characteristics with the university/college demographic we’re appealing to.

Cost

Some preliminary research on printing costs suggests we could produce a game pack for less than $10, not including a potential bulk-producing discount if we were to assume economies of scale. So far we have kept costs down by using the free online design tool, Canva, to design our cards. We could add a low to moderate mark-up to generate some sort of profit whilst keeping the game low-cost to consumers.

Distribution

Online distribution is a valid option for us. Eventually it would be ideal to place the game exclusively in hobbyist game stores and university stores.

Gamifying the Work/Life Balance

The Concept

Game design is an art you don’t truly appreciate nor consider until you attempt it. Ashleigh, Bec, Zoe and myself had been brainstorming ludicrous narratives at random in an attempt to create a unique game. During our conversation, the struggle of maintaining decent grades, working and sustaining some sort of social life arose – and our idea was born. We decided to build a game around the concept of balancing those three areas.

The original blueprint was named Escape the HECS Debt. It was effectively a reiteration of The Game of Life, but instead of imitating life events such as having children, purchasing insurance and building careers and salaries, our game was inspired by students at the University of Wollongong.

After a conversation with our tutor, Richard, regarding our game design, we realised our design was overly complicated for such a simple game loop. The game play did not allow for any strategic thinking or creativity from its players. Whilst sticking to the same theme of the student’s work/life balance, we’ve created a fresh format.

The Aim

The aim of the game is for each player (student) to complete enough assignments to pass three subjects in order to complete the semester first. Assignments (in card form) can be collected from the deck, dealt out in the first hand, collected as compensation for tutoring and other services, or stolen from other players.

Game Pack

 

monopoly.jpg
The structure of our game, entitled The Balancing Act is based on some of the mechanics behind Monopoly Deal. (source)

 

Our current blueprint is based on the structure of Monopoly Deal. The game pack comprises of a deck of cards. This deck includes a variety of assessment cards for different subjects, for example law, history and engineering (3 assessment cards for the same subject is equal to passing/completing that subject), denomination cards of relaxation (each has a short story, such as “grab a coffee before class, + 3 relaxation”) and action cards. These are varied; several wild cards, force-swap assessment cards, and payment cards demanding relaxation points from other players.

 

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Beginning

Each player (4-8) is dealt five cards, which they hold facing away from the other players. The remaining cards form a deck at the centre of the playing space.

Middle

The middle of this game consists of the players attempting to balance their relaxation and assessment cards to combat the surprises thrown at them by the action cards.

Game Loop: On a player’s turn, he or she can play one card from each category in front of them (action, relaxation and assessment). This may include:

  • Placing a relaxation card in their ‘bank’
  • Placing an assessment card into their ‘portfolio’
  • Playing an action card against another player

NOTE: a player does not have to play all three cards each loop.

For example, player one may place a +2 relaxation card and an English assessment card in front of them during their turn. Player two can then play an action card requiring +3 relation denominations for tutoring services. Because player one has only got +2 relaxation in their bank, they must also pay player two with their English assessment.

End

The game concludes when one player has successfully collected three lots of three matching assessment cards and therefore completed three subjects.

Simulation Theory & Conjectures of Post Humanity

The day I realised there was a good chance I didn’t actually exist I was web surfing Google, looking for something academic to support my BCM112 Digital Artefact, The Life of Mindy. I came across Nick Bostrom’s simulation theory and, assuming it was satire, read it through eagerly. Upon realising its depth and logic, I delved into it further. As an avid searcher for the meaning of life (looking at I Ching for Digital Asia and exploring fate and the psychic universe), this seemed like something I needed to know about. Although simulation theory adds flavour to the conversations on life and consciousness, it somewhat challenges these other ventures of mine, given that there’s a significant chance that our memories, personalities, human experience and emotions may be nothing more than freshly-typed code.

This blog post will introduce the idea of post-human study with a focus on Bostram`s ideas, and outline my digital artefact blueprint.

See the source image
We may never be certain of where we came from, yet there’s still room for viable prediction (image: Eric Lacombe)

Studies of future humanity are notoriously unreliable, for we are a fair distance from accurate prediction, and further again from concrete information. This does not mean, however, that the area should not be studied. It is viable to measure the intellectual growth of humanity against technology to establish predictions of what future humanity may resemble.

There has been significant discussion on the evidence that may suggest we are in a simulation for decades. These conversations ignite from a variety of fields:

“Look at the way the Universe behaves, it’s quantized, it’s made of pixels. Space is quantitized, matter is quantitized, energy is quantitized, everything is made of individual pixels. Which means the Universe has a finite number of components. Which means a finite number of states. Which means it’s computer. That infers the Universe could be created by lines of code in a computer,” said Rich Terrell, from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, California Institute of Technology.

universe
The universe is made up of consistently repeated numerical patterns and formulae that strongly resemble digital design (image source).

A post-human society, in Bostram’s paper entitled The Future of Humanity, is comprised of at least one of the following characteristics:

  • A population of more than one trillion people;
  • Each of these people has a life expectancy exceeding 500 years;
  • Most of the population possess a cognitive capacity at least two standard deviations above the current human maximum;
  • Most of the population have close to full control over the sensory input (what we perceive through our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing);
  • Psychological suffering is diminished; and/or
  • Any other similar change of a high magnitude comparable to the aforementioned criteria.

We are slowly moving toward this in several ways, including preimplantation genetic diagnosis, the notion of the ‘designer baby‘, and cyborg-esque enhancements to the human form.

BOSTROM’S THEORY (2003)

Given the steady growth of computing power across the past several decades, it is plausible that the human race (as we know it) will have the technological capacity to manufacture a detailed simulation of humanity, with conscious but unaware participants. Given this premise, it would be exceedingly arrogant and irrational to assume we are not the product of an original race’s simulation – or, indeed, the product of a simulation’s simulation. We are not entitled to believe we may one day create a simulation without considering the likelihood of being one ourselves.

Nick Bostrom uses reasonably simple probability to digest this idea and suggest three core (and roughly equal) possibilities, one of which must be true:

1.Our current human society is unlikely to reach a post-human level

The potential for mass human extinction is sometimes predicted as the result of natural causes, like rogue asteroids, a plague, global warming-related natural disasters or volcanic eruptions. More pressingly, humanity itself is seen as the biggest threat to its own survival. The Doomsday Clock, in early 2018, was set to two minutes to midnight, signalling a “perilous and chaotic” entry into the year, even after 2017’s warnings of nuclear activity. Human behaviour, both on an individual and a collective level, is wildly unpredictable. The threat of nuclear warfare, inaction over climate change or resource inefficiencies for a growing population may destroy the planet before an asteroid ever gets the chance. Science writer Janine Benyus predicts that by 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages. Given previous societies that have grown too fast, exhausted their resources and turned on each other to fight for what was left before collapsing, there is a legitimate chance that our civilisation will collapse under itself in the not too distant future.

earth
Natural disasters are no longer the only threat to humanity’s survival (image source).

Another threat to human survival, which has increasingly been explored in science fiction media since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), is that the technology we create will evolve beyond our control and destroy our civilisation. A perpendicular idea is that technological civilisation as we know it will collapse, but primitive humanity will remain behind indefinitely, never reaching post-human level. It’s widely accepted that humanity is around 200 000 years old, but it’s difficult to predict its exact end. J Richard Gott uses probability, at a 95% accuracy margin, to predict humanity will go extinct some time between 5 100 years and 7.8 million years from now – a fairly useless margin based purely on numbers and time, not society and its practices, nor nature.

If any of these hypotheses hold true, we are unlikely to reach a post-human phase.

2. The post-human race is not interested in running a simulated human universe

Assuming humanity continues to survive and evolve at its current technological rate, we can assume we will someday possess the knowledge and quantum computing ability to run a simulated society – but this does not necessarily mean we will do so. Bostrom offers reasonable suggestions as to why a post-human society would be unlikely to design and run a simulation. Firstly, technology may evolve in a different – potentially more ‘vital’ – direction, leaving insufficient resources to invest in a simulated society.

See the source image
Is it arrogant to assume a post-human society would devote resources to study a society such as ours? (Image: Neriak)

Even if a simulation is on the cards, strong, enforceable legislation may be enacted to combat its creation. Depending upon the social trajectories of the time, there’s a decent chance that making a simulation could be deemed unethical, due to potential suffering inflicted upon the test subjects or inhabitants, depending on the purpose of the experiment. Bostrom argues that creating a human race is not necessarily immoral from today’s perspective, particularly as we tend to place a high value on the existence of humanity, yet we cannot say for sure that this view will carry forward with future generations.

The trajectory of human development may progress so that future civilisations have no legitimate interest in examining past (or different) societies. While this would involve a strong push away from our own desires of understanding today, it cannot be discounted as a possibility.

3. We are living in a simulation

Assuming humanity doesn’t face mass extinction, or reach a post-human stage uninterested in developing such as simulation as we are imagining, it is plausible – or, as Bostram argues, almost certain – that we exist ourselves in a computed simulation. It’s worth noting that, assuming the initial post human creators allow it, it’s perfectly possible for a simulated society to develop into a post-human society and thus generate its own simulations. Therefore it’s possible there are a plethora of realities, all existing at different levels, and it is reasonable to suggest that the post-humans simulating our own world are simulations themselves. It is unclear whether this simulation would be the work of a large-scale corporation or a single hobbyist.


Bostrom argues that if our humanity goes on to create a simulation in the future, the first two probabilities are almost certainly void, and we’d have to assume we are simulations ourselves. However, the technological cost of maintaining a post-human simulated society may be intense, in which case it’s likely our simulation would be terminated before we reach a post-human stage, in which case possibility one becomes more likely.

It’s worth noting that any simulation is unlikely to be immaculate and thus experience glitches. Some prophesise that the ‘creators’ have the ability to rewind and wipe anything that gives away the experiment. Others suggest that Deja vu, lucid dreams and the supernatural are perhaps examples of these glitches live in action.

Digital Artefact: The Life of Mindy

 My artefact will be based on another ‘version’ of Mindy Farmer in an alternate universe to the one she existed in for BCM112 and DIGC202. I plan to illustrate and explore the future of humanity through simulation theory, using The Sims as a platform. I’ll examine the potential relationship between creator and creation through an interactive narrative I’ll construct to illustrate Bostrom’s theory in practice, and its implication for humanity today – no matter which possibility one believes in. In accounts published separately on the blog, I will consider the implications of simulation theory on how we imagine the future to be, and look at dystopian fictional media such as Divergent and The Matrix to explore the idea of human experimentation by superior humans.


(This post has been reblogged on The Life of Mindy, the website for my artefact).

Chin Music: Analysis of User Experience

Image taken in BCM300 Seminar Week1

Chin music is a twist on classic memory card games. It requires its users to effectively compose their own rap. The game is produced by Invincible Ink. It plays out in a style reflective of the iconic car-trip game or icebreaker, When I Went Shopping; each player must remember and recite the entirety of the deck before adding their own card on top. Many of the words are onomatopoeic (“biff, boffo, whack”), creating tongue-twisting, awkward sounding raps absolutely bereft of logical meaning.  The results resemble a truncated Shakespearean soliloquy. 

Rulebook: Design v Play

Because reciting the rap incorrectly means collecting the entire deck of cards, and thus having a smaller chance of winning, it was imperative to memorise the phrasing effectively. Interestingly enough, if you could ramble on with enough confidence, your bluff could go unnoticed. If the next person repeats your bluff and you call them out on it, they have to take the deck. This tactic sneaks around the rulebook but is a legitimate form of play, which made the game significantly more interesting. On a separate note, ‘calling out’ a player for messing up a round took immense effort, and thus we ended up letting a lot of mistakes slide to avoid reading through the whole deck! Player analysis  undertaken via user experience can shed new light on game theories, given that much of the current literature in this field assumes games are “defined and constituted by rules”  (Mosca 2017 p.587). 
See the source image
The ability to side-step the rules and create a different user experience in this game is akin to the classic user experience v. design pattern we often see illustrated in infrastructure design (image source: UX)
The small box of cards was bereft of any rule book; instead, a QR code and URL on the bottom of the box leads the user to a PDF file online. The rule book is a comedic companion to a game story that’s easy to enter; it’s one of those rule books that doesn’t really need to be read. It starts out with acknowledgements, giving a sincere thanks to a person named Casey, who inspired the designer at a bus stop, and also to Aryn, who “talked punchin'”. It’s also intentionally careless and vague with certain procedures:
Determine who’s going to be the first player, by a roll of a die or a coin flip or who has the longest middle name, or some other method that strikes your fancy.
Fists Gem 3
The graphics on the website also reinforce the rap battle theme of the game (source: Inkspace).
The game itself thus becomes another hip-hopping, too cool for school, teenage dropkick-esque player in the game. The packaging even has its own comically swaggering demeanour, stating clearly:
Bring yer mam! (sic)
*cringe*
The game’s aesthetics cleverly reinforce its personality (image taken in BCM300 Seminar Week 1)

Authenticity in Web 2.0 Culture

Authenticity:

NOUN

  1. the proven fact that something is legitimate or real, Online Dictionary
  2. not openly false, Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age
  3. fake version of foreign cuisine/art/music that appeals to white pseudo intellectual hipsters, Urban Dictionary

SYNONYMS

reliable – realistic – life like – true – valid – lawful – bona fide – unattested – rightful


Somewhat ironically, the best real-world definition of authenticity we can hope for is articulated the most effectively on Urban Dictionary, a platform that calls on the unregulated masses to establish definitions for a variety of terms. These definitions, I would argue, have a firmer grasp on language’s use than the legacy hardback versions.

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We’re entangled in a spiral of transparency, authenticity and employability (source).

Although social media culture advocates for “transparency and openness“, the edited persona must remain simultaneously business-friendly, true and savvy. At the same time, the manner by which others approach and communicate with our online presence must be monitored meticulously. You can maintain the cleanest Twitter account in the digital sphere, but if your friend posts a picture of a drunken night out and tags you, it’s all over. Therefore our social media identity is a self-conscious one by definition. Web 2.0 ideology explicitly requires the self to be constructed as we would a tangible product. So where does this expectation of authenticity fit in?

This generally involves, according to Alice Marwick, a gruelling combination of immaterial and emotional labour:

The self is immaterial in that it is digital, and emotional in that it involves using real emotional affect when presenting oneself and interacting with others. (Marwick 2013)

Establishing a somewhat authentic persona can incorporate a magnitude of negative emotional costs which are often side-lined. This work can involve reiterating personal stories for online publication to the point of “extreme discomfort or vulnerability” (ibid). These stories can be potentially damaging, in a career sense, yet personal branding is increasingly correlated to employability. This is seen through young graduates constructing their social media in a way that represents the values they associate with their chosen field, given that many employers will extensively research a job candidate’s online presence before hiring them.

Young journalists in the United States, for example, have admitted to intentionally appearing apolitical on their social media pages so that prospective employers would see them as objective. They then found that once they were hired, employers expected them to fashion and maintain a personal brand via social media relating to their work. A significant issue with this is that the main persona is not the only person with the ability to contribute to the social media profile, and one must constantly be on alert for friends who post incriminating images, for example, of a lit night out. The amount of effort required to monitor this over a plethora of social media platforms that make up a persona is staggering.


Identity:

NOUN

  1. the conception, qualities, beliefs and expressions that make a person (online dictionary)

In self-branding culture, authenticity relies on our ability to ensure that each decision we make is rooted in being true to ourselves – but what is the self? The authentic self, we can conclude, is very much a social construct, a phenomenon we can relate back to Urban Dictionary’s open-sourced definition of the word. We are simultaneously told to be ourselves online within a virtual framework characterised by the surveillance of self-presentation, often with severe consequences within the physical corporate sphere. This becomes especially intricate in an internet arena without any established guidelines on media etiquette.

eyes
Source

Even while trumpeting authenticity, Web 2.0 enthusiasts generally accept the idea that one should self-censor online (Marwick 2013).

This is the ultimate paradox enframing the social media paradigm. The social media sphere is far more socially progressive than its corporate physical shadow, making the two severely incompatible. We still have rigid distinctions between what is acceptable social behaviour and what is acceptable workplace behaviour. When the two combine, there are no guidelines on how to process this information. Logically, we cannot sustain a Web 2.0 culture of personas both completely transparent and corporate focused, so we need to work on changing definitions and practice to combat the instability between self-branding culture and the corporate western world.