Did You Get The Message?: How Game Developers Discuss Topics in Gaming

 

How implicit or explicit should a game developers message be so that it may be impactful and understood by the player? Often this question arose in my mind after playing Grayscale and Redshift and Portalmetal (Redshift). If developers seek to convey a message the player should be able to walk away from the game retaining the message. Some games like Redshift first implicitly state the message and then clearly state it at the end. Others like Grayscale state their purpose before gameplay and continues to inform the player throughtout the game. 

Let’s take Redshift’s message and examine this first. The player begins the game and must make decisions according to each given scenario. However, each choice leads to a different outcome until the player reaches the end of the game with the following message:

“The project…was intended to honor the native peoples of the Anishnabe, Mississauga, New Credit and Grassy Narrows territories, where I was a visitor from 2014-2015, and to support their struggle against the murder and disappearance of native women, as well as against mercury poisoning, logging and other destructive practices that harm them and their homelands.”

While the game does have an underlying significance, in my opinion, the game does a poor job of passing along this message throughout the entire game. If the developer wanted their audience to understand the significance of the game, in this case, I do not believe they were successful. This is also evident given that many of my classmates did not get the message until the end of game and yet still could not connect their gameplay experience with the developer’s message. Therefore, the message does not become as impactful or even understood. While Redshift does do a poor job of carry the underlying message it is worth noting that it could be done better. Perhaps providing more context during gameplay so that the player has some idea but, completely understands it at the end. Doing so, makes for a more impactful and understood message. For when developers are too explicit players may be opposed to play for example, our next game Grayscale.

So Redshift does do a poor job but, I have noticed that Grayscale does a much better job relaying their message to the player. In Grayscale the developers state the purpose of the game before the player begins. The developers convey that the game will discuss sexism in a work environment. Thus, developers explicitly state the underlying message before gameplay which allows the player to understand the message. The player must make decisions in regards to issues of sexism in the workplace with emails (figure 1).

Grayscale 2.png

Figure 1: it is clear in this email the player is dealing with issues of sexism in the work environment

The player has few options to choose from which provides different outcomes for each choice. Although explicit and somewhat implicitly stated in gameplay I believe this too can be problematic. If players are completely aware of the developers ideas this could impact each decision made in the game. Therefore, players get the message but they do not draw their own conclusions rather it is handed to them. Doing so makes the message less  surprising but rather uneventful because the player “gets it,” (there is no need for further investigation). In addition, when given that information bluntly the gamer may be reluctant to play because it is “too controversial.” So where are the boundaries in relaying messages? When is a game developers message too implicit and misunderstood? When is it too obvious and uneventful?

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7 thoughts on “Did You Get The Message?: How Game Developers Discuss Topics in Gaming

  1. I’m curious as to how redshift does a poor job conveying it’s meaning? this isn’t mean to be a loaded question, but I felt really impacted by the game and can’t quite relate to what seemed to be the class consensus.

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    • Personally, I could not understand how each choice I was making related to the lives of native peoples in “Anishnabe, Mississauga, New Credit and Grassy Narrows territories.” Also, the developers choice with audio was overwhelming to me and I got caught up in making decisions arbitrarily to avoid hearing it. I wonder if the game developers considered that players like me would react that way. Moreover, if one goes back to the game developers homepage we see that there was actually an additional message they sought to convey. Aside from native people the developer wanted to discuss “migration and settlement for a trans woman of color.” That message was not apparent in the game either.

      However, I am curious about your thoughts on the game. Do you think the game developer was successful in getting those two messages across?

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      • I took the immediate message of the game to be the migration and settlement of trans women, with heavy references both visually and textually to dosages of estrogen and transitional states/spaces. I too however was uncertain to the connection between the native people’s and the narrative presented in the game. So to answer your question, the developer was certainly successful in getting across the trans narrative, but not the native narrative. It could be that the game was simply inspired by the game designer’s experiences visiting those native cultures, or the game might be dedicated to those cultures. I don’t remember the exact wording of the designer’s statement however, and as a non native person I’m not in a place to make much of a statement on the value of the narrative of the game in that regard.

        Also it might be worth it to take another pry at the game with the audio turned down? making decisions to avoid audio cues seems a little ridiculous unless your volume control is broken

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      • Let me further explain why I was irritated by the choice in sound. If the author intended to put a harsh sound in a scene and cause the player to turn down their volume we must question the purpose of sound. If the player has to turn down the volume is the game developer eliciting the right response? If the sound was meant to intensify a choice the player has to make then they did not do a good job. If I turn down the volume the intensity of the choice diminishes. If I decide to keep the normal volume then I make a choice without reading the block of text and attaining the significance of that choice.

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      • Perhaps by that logic what the designer was attempting to elicit was irritation, uncomfortableness, etc? A major part of gender dysphoria, for me at least, is an incredible anxiety/irritation in my situation/body. Similar to how Lim uses sound and visuals to exhibit violence.

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      • Given your uncertainty of the game developers choice in music it really speaks to my original question: How implicit or explicit should the game developers message be so that it may be understood by the player? If there are messages the developer wants to convey it should be clear enough to a general audience. Considering that many people did not get the message, can we really say the game developer successfully passed on their message? Redshift leaves the player with too many mixed messages thus, one does not feel exposed to a particular subject but rather left with ambiguity.

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  2. I really enjoyed your post and, while playing both these games, I also questioned how one could make a game that was neither too explicit or too implicit. On not making a game too explicit, I feel that the best way to do so is to not have an author’s note that explains the purpose of the game. For example, in Undertale, though it is mentioned that one does not have to kill in the beginning of the game, it is not mentioned in a way that is too in your face or obvious- you do not immediately feel like not killing is the correct way to play. However, I think making sure a game is not too implicit is much harder. For me, I think rewards or penalties are the best way for a message to get across. Giving players small, ambiguous rewards for a decision that is “good” is, in my opinion, an excellent way to push them towards that behavior without revealing WHY you are doing so. This way, the player won’t realize until the end what the message is, but they will still get the message.

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