This year I started participating in the One Game A Month (1GAM, for short) challenge.
By the end of 2014, having quit my current job, I decided to focus my time to improve as a game developer while preparing everything to start post-graduate studies. I made a list of the things that interested me and decided to focus each month for each. One of those things was learning to create games using GameMaker; as I mentioned before, I started learning via two sources: a video tutorial and a book. 1GAM was the perfect excuse to get something done.
Due to the recent events surrounding Charlie Hebdo, the whole debate about what’s the line (if it exists) that should not be crossed when making use of our freedom of speech and the latent debate about the capabilities of games as an medium of expression and impact on society, I decided to make my game about freedom of speech.
January’s theme for 1GAM was Resolution, this project is the embodiment of such theme. And so, Parollibereco was born.
As all ideas, my original conception of the game changed throughout its development. I learned an important rule of game design: if it takes you away from the real purpose of the game, cut it out. Most of the decisions I made about what was selected or discarded were based under the premise of whether it actually helped or difficulted the clear transmission of the message I wanted to share.
I’ll be dissecting its design, so now’s a good moment to make a pause and try the game. It’s available for Windows only and can be downloaded here; it requires no installation whatsoever.
The game is pretty simple; the player is presented with several individuals, each one with a speech bubble on top of its head that expresses their opinions or beliefs. After a random amount of time, new people replace existing ones.
The player input is restricted to the mouse only (specifically its two main buttons), with which NPCs can be hovered and clicked unto.
There are two explicit mechanics:
- Insult: you can insult a person by left-clicking them, their response is to insult you back.
- Censor: by right-clicking a person, it ceases to speak its mind but everyone else rally together in support, sharing the original message. If a good amount of people get censored at the same time, all NPCs enter a state of rebellion (under which they can’t be insulted or censored).
Like September 12th and Spec Ops, the mechanics of the game convey that violence only brings more violence. The only «good» way to play it game is by not playing it at all.
The morale of the story is basically “live and let live”.
The initial concept was darker, featuring written and spoken insults. I ultimately decided to drop any kind of words (as it tied the game to a particular language) and started to use icons that represented ideas. The negation of such ideas is also possible and is represented by the original icon with a Ø over it. I got the icons from The Noun Project, by the way.
Also, censorship was more brutal; it meant killing the NPCs. Instead, in the final version, it’s represented by a face with the mouth shut. There are plenty of ways to censor without recurring to violence, so linking it only to a very violent action might have been too inappropriate.
Parollibereco is also esperanto for “freedom of speech” and I chose it because of its uniqueness and following the objective to make it as universal as possible (as that language thrives to be).
The whole project was also an experiment on game design. Because it features almost no text, I tried to make the instructions as simple as possible; the most difficult part was how to teach what the controls were.
My initial approach was using the method shown above, where the black circle represents the pointer. I thought it would be natural to conclude that each symbol around it was mapped to each of the two buttons of a mouse. It seems I was wrong, as most people didn’t even know that the right button was operable.
It wasn’t until I developed the main menu that I added the icon of a mouse to further instruct about the controls.
The different colors for the characters served two purposes: further differentiate the people and easily show that they were not always the same initial persons.
For the music, I decided to go with a calm but strong mood; something that wouldn’t interrupt or distract from the gameplay and that could portray solemnity and harmony. My choice was the piece Air on the G String, an arrangement for violin and piano (by August Wilhelmj), of Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068.
I intended at some point to disrupt the song whenever there was a violation of the right to speak, but for the sake of the experiment I decided to leave it playing as dissonance between the beauty of the song and the horrors of censorship. I must admit that it was certainly inspired by the segments of Battle Royale where the violence of the kids was followed by the military and classical music pieces.
I should mention that while not everyone got a clear idea of the intended message of the game, one playtester mentioned the discomfort he felt while playing it, precisely what I was aiming for. On the other hand, another playtester didn’t get the message at all and instead fell on the trap of shutting up everyone that spoke about something she disagreed with.
Parollibereco is far from perfect, but I’m very proud of it. The interactive nature of the medium gives the player a chance to decide what to do and to learn more about itself, so it was a great decision to transmit the message through a game.
Games can be serious and impactful; they are what we make of them.