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  • Results From Game Design Challenge: Face Your Fears

    - Danny Cowan

  • Adair Tabb, Student at The University of Montevallo, The New Kid


    All kids worry when they first start going to a new school that they'll have a hard time making friends. But not all kids transfer to that new school in the middle of the year, and even the ones who do aren't as "weird" as Sloan Flores. 

    Sloan doesn't like loud noises, or eye contact, or being touched, or talking. They need their stuffed dog Hamish with them all the time, and sometimes they take things too literally or can't quite figure out what someone wants them to do. 

    At their last school, Sloan was bullied. They're determined to make Riverside Middle a fresh start. 

    That means making friends, and fast, no matter how scary approaching people is.

    From the perspective of Sloan, the player will go through parts of their day over the course of a five-day school week. They will hit the highlights, where Sloan meets important NPCs or a noteworthy event occurs (such as Sloan having to introduce themself to their entire class on the morning of the first day, or a dog getting into the playground during recess). The player will shape what specific story events unfold, as the narrative is set up to reinforce their decisions and give the player a sense of agency and control.


    Timed interactions mode: There are time limits on responding and reacting in-game, similar to Telltale conversation mechanics and other general quicktime events. 

    Untimed interactions mode: Time limits on responding to NPCs and reacting to certain events are taken away so the player may take as long as they wish. Additionally, the conversation or event may be replayed as many times as needed for the player to process.

    Sloan's PECS Book: A book with pictures and symbols the player can point to during conversations in place of speaking. Items will be displayed with branching dialogue options which, when selected, will show Sloan's hand pointing to the rest of the items needed to complete the thought. 

    When "I live with my mom" is selected, Sloan will point first to themself, then the symbol for WITH, then the image of MOTHER, then HOUSE, but since the topic is about home, that is where the dialogue selection will be centered.

    Stimulation Level: A constant value tracked by the game, determined by noise and light level and Sloan's interest in the topic at hand (determined by the player's choices). Overstimulation will cause background noise to become louder, lights to be brighter, and the player's vision to shake slightly. Understimulation will result in desaturation of the world and noises to become indistinct. When over- or understimulated, the player can pet Hamish or play with his ears, or engage the environment around them to regulate their stimulation level.


    This would be a PC game for ease of access. As a relatively linear role-playing game from a first-person perspective, it requires detailed environmental storytelling the Unreal engine should be suitable for.


    Ultimately, this is geared towards autistic children. It can be used as a tool to educate and foster empathy, but primarily it's a middle school survival guide for autistic kids. It's hard enough to navigate the vicious world of burgeoning identities and insecurities without also worrying about having all the little neurotypical social idiosyncrasies down pat! As long as the player tries to interact respectfully with their classmates, at least one should become their friend; the idea is to not encourage the please-everyone mindset that can occur when NPC relationships are important, but provide a safe environment for the player to experiment with different interactions and their consequences, good and bad. 


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