I’ve continued to playtest regularly-updated drafts of my game, in order to develop and sharpen its ideas, form and content. What’s been fascinating is repeatedly presenting people with the same set of rules, the same controls, the same structure, and seeing how very differently they’ve responded to them, whether in the choices they make, the motivations behind their decisions, or how they interpret the piece as a whole.
A player’s role in a game, and relationship to it, is something I’ve been intrigued by for a long time - from how you can read and respond to the more basic collection of pixels (as in Freedom Bridge), to how twists can re-define your entire identity and actions (like Braid or Her Story), to how a game’s narrative can be purely about how the player engages with a few basic givens (as with Loneliness). How games allow for, respond to, and are shaped by, players’ actions is - to me - core to their appeal, something I enjoy experiencing as a player and trying to work through as a maker.
In the game I’m developing, players tap out a heartbeat rhythm whenever a character speaks. If they stop tapping, the character stops speaking and the player is taken to another character. I’ve tested various drafts of the game with seasoned gamers who’ve stopped tapping purely to test the limits of the game and see what happens; people who’ve stopped the moment they feel the content of a character’s speech is getting too dark; people who’ve stopped because they feel they’ve collected all the information they need, whether to get a sense of the world they’re in or that might be useful later on; people who’ve never stopped because they’re wary of precisely what that might to; people who’ve never stopped because they’ve been interested in what’s being said; people who’ve never stopped because they feel a responsibility to listen and support.
Through relatively limited controls - tap or don’t tap - those I’ve tested the game with so far have expressed massively different viewpoints, motivations and responses. Another step in developing the game, a focus group with various people all discussing war, conflict and their relationships to it (and all the other areas of conversation these can relate to - morality, politics, how we deal with danger and change, compassion fatigue, how our accounts of war are defined by the country we live in), raised a similar variety of perspectives. It only feels apt that the game should try to make space for these - the player’s viewpoint on what a game presents can be just as fascinating as a game’s content.
Alongside continuing to playtest and re-write drafts of the game, the next step in developing it is speaking to people about their experiences. Like the playtests and focus group, it’s essentially about developing the piece through conversation, except now I’ll be meeting up with activists, veterans, doctors, soldiers, volunteers and many other people to inform the game’s stories, thoughts and detail.