The basic premise of our Twine game (Covid Disparity Quest) is to highlight the difference in the way the pandemic has impacted various sections of society. The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm this year, and it has disrupted the lives of almost everyone on the planet, especially in populated and containment zones like New York City. However, it is undeniable that it has disproportionately affected marginalized sections of society. This disparity was something Mudita, Pratyush and I noticed in India, and Anusha noticed in the United States. Class disparity transcends borders, and we found this to be very interesting. So, we decided to base our game on this concept.
One of the main objectives of our game was to create a sense of empathy for those who are different, or less privileged than those playing the game. Games are very effective in creating this sense of empathy as compared to things like written texts, as games are interactive, and allow the player to actually ‘live’ the experience in some way. In How To Do Things With Videogames, Ian Bogost says, “If a game […] is meant to foster empathy for terrible real-world situations in which the players fortunate enough to play videogames might intervene, then those games would do well to invite us to step into the smaller, more uncomfortable shoes of the downtrodden rather than the larger, more well-heeled shoes of the powerful.” He talks about how a large number of popular videogames allow players to gain powers, and play characters have more strength that they do in real life. However, there is a certain merit in games that force us to play powerless and oppressed characters. It is only these games that can truly invoke a sense of empathy.
The disparity is highlighted by the choices the player had to make. Rebecca is a college-dropout, an aspiring actress, and a recently-unemployed bartender. She is struggling to makes ends meet, and the pandemic has only worsened her financial situation. As players goes through her story, they are expected to make life-altering decisions for her. She has to choose between risking her health and safety to take a job, and risking exhausting all her savings. There is no winning. This has been the reality for millions of people across the globe in the pandemic. In complete contrast, Crest is an investment banker and a UPenn alumnus. When players choose to play his story, they must make comparatively insignificant choices. For example, Crest must choose between living in his penthouse in NYC, or moving to the Hamptons. His privilege ensures financial stability, and thus he has the freedom to make choices to remain completely safe from contracting the virus. This stark difference in the kinds of options presented in each storyline would drive home the main message of our game.
Creating this kind of game was a great learning experience for me. The writing I had to do for the game was non-linear. There wasn’t just one path the story could take. This was different from anything I had ever done, and it was an interesting experience. This assignment helped me to understand the working of chronology in writing. Each choice the player makes affects the direction the story takes, and so it was essential to recognize how certain actions in a paragraph would affect the actions in future paragraphs. I think this would be a useful skill to have while writing regular essays too, as it would ensure a more coherent and logical sequence and structure of paragraphs. Another important learning point in this experience was the understanding of rhetorical composition. Before writing anything, it was important for us to decide what we’re trying to say through the game (purpose), and who we’re trying to say it to (audience). We also had to take into account our limited knowledge of coding, and thus make the game as technologically simple as possible. Only after considering these factors could we begin creating the game.
I think that this assignment was a good way to put together everything we’ve learnt in the semester so far. After analyzing and discussing several games in class and in our podcast episodes, it was extremely interesting to switch roles and actually be the one creating the game. It was slightly surprising to know how difficult this entire process of making a game is, and by the end of it I definitely had newfound respect for all the game-creators. Lastly, teamwork was an extremely important part of the whole exercise. I think Mudita, Pratyush, Anusha and I worked well together, and complemented each other well. We were able to build on each other’s ideas and produce an adequate end product.