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  • Designing Non-Violent Games

    [09.22.20]
    - Brian Fairbanks

  • Solution to  E v e r y t h i n g: 

    Going back to Problem #1, what if our Foe was Suffering itself?

    What if we're here to help, to save, to bring good? What if our sole mission as a gamer playing your game were to eliminate the suffering we see in everyone we meet? I mean sure, canonically a lot of the FPS games eliminate suffering through thrilling heroics but they still use death to do it, and indirectly at that. They aren't literally clothing and feeding people, usually not saving their lives through direct action. What if your game was a place where things only got better due to your actions?

    In our modern world and aforementioned terrible times, what could be more powerful than a place people can go to be a force for good, to bring light into the dark places through direct action and influence? What could be more meaningful than a safe haven set apart from the current not-so-great reality?

    Warmth. Comfort. Safety. Belonging. Purpose. Is your player a catalyst for Good Change? If not, how could they be?

    In my games, the focus is on fighting suffering. In Lost and Hound, you find yourself in missions where you're the only one around for miles that can help, that can save a life that's in danger or find a person lost. It's you, and it's only you. I use voice acting to convey anxiety and pleas for assistance, and as massive emotional payoffs when the task is complete.

    What are your emotional payoffs? Music as we mentioned can be one, voice acting can be another, what else can you put into your game to substitute the satisfaction that killing gives most gamers? You have to "think around corners" here. We can't reward our player with more powerful guns or phat lewts, so what, in your game world, can make a player feel more powerful, more valued?

    In the game Unpacking, by Witch Beam Studios, the game mechanic is unpacking boxes from a recent move, and that in itself is soothing and addictive. To put it another way, the emotional payoff is the gameplay loop.

    I have moderate anxiety, and organisation quiets my anxiety a bit. Playing this game is incredibly cathartic to the point that when I take a break and play the game I feel like I'm not actually on break or "wasting time" as non-gamers make us feel, I feel like I'm partaking in self care. To an anxious mind, relief is everything and this game gets me there. This game takes it a step further than the simple, bland content you'll find in most "relaxing game genre" games: the time you spend in-game tackles and solves a problem you feel both in-game and sometimes in real life. It spends time helping us move from chaos to order. What can your game do to achieve similar results?

    It can happen in small ways, such as an npc child saying "thank you" and giving you their favourite toy - which has no value in game but potentially massive emotional value for the player. Such a small thing, but en masse it can completely revolutionise the tone of a game. Think about it, how often do you feel genuine gratitude from the game world when you're playing a game?

    I think what it all comes down to is that we need to be better caretakers for our players' emotions, and we need to work a lot harder than those who can provide satisfaction with violence.

    Don't just seek comfort in your nonviolent gaming experience. Seek deep satisfaction, as if your player feels that their presence is filling a deep need within the game world, and get there using thorough praise and emotionally charged moments of gratitude. Remind your player of their humanity, and their place and participation within it.

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