A Serious Game About Serious Things
Last night the issue of ‘gaming literacy’ came up once again. This is a recurring topic in our class, one that we continue to struggle with and argue about. To my mind we still have not settled on exactly what it means to be gaming literate. Does it mean the ability to navigate and manipulate systems quickly and easily? Does it mean having a base line understanding of the game making process to actually have the kind of conversations through the design that both Frank and I have talked about? Is it spotting inter-textuality as Bob says? Much discussion has taken place in the past semester and I feel that very little has been settled. That gives me hope actually, because it means that we have truly reached the real questions of game design, instead of mere engineering problems. May I suggest though, as the closing weeks of class approach, that we turn to engineering, to mechanics, and do what we all came here to do: design games.
So I propose making a serious game that teaches gaming literacy. Video game literacy, that is. For the sake of coherency I’ll limit myself both to what I know best, and where I think the least effort is put to welcome new-comers. It’s also fair to draw some distinctions between my project and others. Games that are on some level about gaming literacy, such as WarioWare or our own Frank Lantz’s Arcadia, have a tendency to assume that players are already well versed in in the mechanics that they’re parodying (Arcadia is both more and less forgiving in this respect than WarioWare). Another similar project is the Game Game, by Aki Jarvenin, which is a card game where players actually create games which are judged by another player who is designated as ‘the publisher’. The game I’m proposing would fall somewhere between these two kind of experiences. The purpose would be to acclimate players to different game mechanics rather than draw ironic attention to them. It would also not be teaching the design process, but rather the play process.
At this point a have only a sketchy, tongue-in-cheek, idea of what this game would be like. It would have a setting that changed from fantasy to science-fiction as the game proceeded, since those are the two predominant genres in games. It would feature a top-down, isometric viewpoint for exploring towns and the overworld map, but switch to a side-scrolling view for stages involving combat, similar to The Adventure of Link. Combat, by the way, could be avoided if necessary, through careful running and jumping. However, once the player acquired the sword they could slash at the enemy. There would be a wide range of maneuvers that the player was capable of right off the bat, but they would take skill to learn, like a fighting game. Dungeons would start small, but gradually increase in complexity until they were like little Metroids. That’s about as far as my own thoughts have gone, though I have dream of the player halfway through the game getting some kind of mech that changes all the perspectives to 3D.
So what do you guys think? I’m interested in your ideas for approaching this subject. I am, in the end, teaching a very particular kind of gaming literacy. There’s also no assurance that this would be the best way to go about it, but what I’m trying to get across is the idea of a slow progression of complexity. That’s just my way of going about things though, I’m sure some of you guys would come at it from a very different angle.