As the new semester kicks off, think back to your first day of school. For many children, starting school is a source of anxiety - it's a major shift in everyday routine, and daily classes introduce an entirely new set of challenges for kids to face.
Over the years, however, children gradually learn to adapt to schoolwork, and fears begin to dissipate as school becomes a familiar part of daily life.
But what if kids could safely face their fears in the context of a video game? For Game Career Guide's latest game design challenge, we asked our readers to design games about overcoming childhood fears. Here are our top picks!
Nick Feofentov, Researcher, The Monster (see page 2)
Adair Tabb, Student at The University of Montevallo, The New Kid (see page 3)
Harrison W. Neville, Student at The University of Montevallo, Night Terrors (see page 4)
Eleonora Fallabrino, Student at High Point University, First Day (see page 5)
Noah Amat, Junior Level Designer, Equilibrium (see page 6)
Nick Feofentov, Researcher, The Monster
Genre: Top-down Stealth.
You come back home after school. Your parents raised you with respect and love, they never hurt you and mean no harm to you in any sense. They believe you are a decent person.
But you did horrible things.
They shouldn't find it out by all means, because every misstep you made transforms you into the Monster.
Game consists of several levels. You hide in a house with labyrinth-like structure which changes every day.
You are followed by your parents. They have cone of vision which you have to avoid. Sometimes they use abilities to destroy walls and hiding places, create more obstacles or walk faster. While using abilities they ask you a question or say something to you, eg.:
"How was you day at school?"
"You shouldn't spend so much time in front of a computer"
If you aren't caught, your answer is short:
"You are right"
Otherwise you have to say something back:
"Good in general, but I had some difficulties with geography classes"
"That's how I communicate with my friends"
Each time you are caught your "Monster Score" increases and your appearance changes. Your goal is to survive until night before "Score" reaches the maximum value.
Your room - safe place for limited time, once per day.
Quests - house duties: clean a room, water flowers, etc. Accomplishing gives ability points which you can spend on active abilities:
Build a wall in selected place. Careless using can trap you inside. Parents can create doors but it requires time.
Enter virtual world near computers and gaming consoles. Transfers you to safier virtual space for limited time.
Lie when caught to avoid "Monster Score" increasing.
You are grown up now, moved to another town. You still in a good relationships with your parents but you can never be honest with them and tell them what do you really feel on any matter.
You burst with anger speech that you've been lying to them all the time because you didn't want them to know that you are not a person they want you to be and you will never be, because you are the Monster and they should give up believing in you.
After that they say sorry for that, they wish they hear and understand you better, that everyone makes mistakes and it just makes them human, not monsters. They really proud of your achievements and no failures make them less important. They wish you to be happy and they won't blame you for any feelings you have.
You transforms from the Monster to a child again.
They hug you and since then you start your way to talk with parents.
This is the good ending.
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.
PLAYER EXPERIENCE GOAL:
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.
Harrison W. Neville, Student at The University of Montevallo, Night Terrors
Have you ever experienced the creeping dread that closes in the late hours of the night after your mother's turned out the light and told you that it's time to go to bed, but outside you can hear something? Maybe it's a little scratching on the window, or the howling of the wind outside, perhaps it's the neighbors stray cat get into the garbage or a stray dog looking for food. That's the problem though, it could be anything.
In "Night Terrors" you are once more a child trying to convince themselves that there is nothing to fear outside.
The game will host 2-4 players. Each player will be given a game mat with three fear slots and three hope slots.
Each player will start the game with five hope cards in their hand. On each turn players turn a fear tile will be flipped over from the deck and placed on that players board.
Fear tiles will have a variety of affects and will count for negative points.
Hope tiles will have positive effects and produce positive points.
Players will play hope tiles on their turns in an effort to counter the fears on the fear tiles.
Here is how a typical term would proceed.
The player next to player one would flip over a fear tile and place it on players one's mat. Player one would then have two options.
Choose to "reimagine the fear," which would cause the fear tile to be discarded and a new fear tile drawn.
Play a hope tile to balance out or neutralize the fear.
After doing this, player 1 would pass the turn to player 2, who would have the same options and the game would continue as such.
The game will end once the deck is run out.
The winner of the game is the player that has the highest number of positive points at the end of the game.
Eleonora Fallabrino, Student at High Point University, First Day
This is a game for Elementary school children.
What things makes a 6 year old scared? Not being able to fit in at school is one example.
This game would explore the pressure revolving around the first day of school.
This game is seen where the player is a kid in school and he is walking in the hallway and with his back turned to the, so called, "friends". If he continues to have his back turned, he can hear whispers about him, if he turns to those friends, he will realize it's all in his/her head.
The player has three choices in the game:
The player can either continue to listen to those whispers,
ignore them and keep walking,
or turn around and check if it was just his imagination.
If the player chooses to listen to the whispers, clicking on the text bubbles
The speech bubbles will transform from blurred words, to an actual sentence. The character will be more and more influenced by what it is said in the speech bubbles. By the end of the game, if the player decides to turn around, those whispers will actually be the talk of the day.
If the player ignores the speech bubbles, not clicking on them when they pop up
The player will succeed to do well in school and have an amazing life. He will not be distracted by the chit chat going on around him. His confidence and determination will be high and his anxiety low.
If the player chooses to turn around to his/her "friends," He will get more friends, but the whispers will increase as he chooses that option. This option also increases the anxiety meter, making the character more nervous, more likely to believe the chats.
Player will go through main menu, will click on Start and will show up in his bedroom. He will need to get ready for school. The morning routine is important because it will determine the mood of the character and how vulnerable they can be (the player will not know). The character will be seen later walking down the hallways facing the player in between classes and will either stop and chat with classmates or keep going. Every decision will count towards how likable the character will be.
Depending on the choices of the player, if to interact with the "friends" or "whispers" or not, the player will end up getting 3 different endings. One is that the elementary school student will graduate with no friends with the top of the grades and be successful later in life. The second is if the player pics to listen to the "whispers" and go talk to the "friends", he will have his anxiety high and be depressed. The third is to learn how to listen to the "whispers" but to chose not to turn around, have a balanced life not caring about what people think.
Noah Amat, Junior Level Designer, Equilibrium
A child who is afraid of heights is trapped in a nightmare. The only way out of it and into a magical exit door. Unfortunately, to reach this door the child will have to cross several places through bridges and cables suspended in the void.
The game is a match 3, where the player must create matches to move the child forward until the end of the different levels, so that he can reach the exit.
The levels are represented by bridges to cross, each time the player finishes a level he will have the possibility to choose between 3 improvements:
Increase the child's speed
Increase the child's stress level
Increase the child's imbalance gauge
The child has 2 gauges, a stress gauge and a balance gauge. The matches created may increase or decrease these gauges.
The stress gauge increases with each second of the level, the higher the stress gauge is, the more saturated and fuzzy the game screen will be, making it more difficult to play matches.
The imbalance gauge increases when the player takes too long to play a game. If the gauge reaches its maximum, the child will fall off the bridges and the level will be lost.
The player will be able to combine 5 spheres of different colors that will have different effects:
Red: causes the child to run but loses balance
Orange: makes the child run but increases his stress
Yellow: makes the child walk and reduce stress
Green: makes the child walk and restore some balance
Blue: stops the child and reduces stress
Purple: stops the child and restores his or her balance
The more the match contains different spheres, the more the positive effect will be amplified.