in game design

What we know

Recently I talked about local networked multiplayer at JOIN, hepatitis a fun and excellently organized conference about local multiplayer games. In an example what kind of games would be possible with working and easily integrate-able mesh-networking I mentioned PKPKT or a digital version of “Human vs. Zombies”.

PKPKT is an iOS game about stealing virtual money. If you meet someone that has the game installed, both of you get alerted. The first to react steals an amount of money from her opponent.

Human vs. Zombies is a game of tag played with, among other things, nerf guns. Humans have to defend themselves against Zombies, Zombies have to infect Humans. Games typically take place on college campuses and can last days or weeks, interrupted by real life like e.g. classes.

I picked these examples because they were the first I thought of. After the talk a member of the audience approached me. He told me that being from a country where theft and violence is part of daily life in a matter that is beyond my experience as a game developer living in Germany, these kinds of games did not sound appealing to him. I did not even think about that until that moment. He – of course – was and is utterly right.

Today I read an article about a game that tries to actually capture the horrors of war. A story of civilians trapped in a war zone. That made me wonder how many of the endless barrage of first person shooters are made by programmers, artists and designers that are completely divorced from the realities of war. I guess quite a few of them.

Gaming at its core is an exploration of the unknown. But should game designers pick themes they have no experience with? Choosing theft, violence or outright war is an easy way to something “exciting”, at least to those that don’t have personal stories involving these things. But aren’t these games by nature shallow and intellectually boring? Why say something about a topic you have no or little knowledge about, without making the effort to empathize?

There is debate about these issues in other media and most likely there just aren’t easy answers to them. But I feel that there is a comparative lack of games about things that had a personal impact on its author, and maybe changing that would make games – as a whole – better.