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).
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?