A Game I Don’t Know How To Make

I was asked over on my patreon to consider how to make a game like:

A game that can, at least *sort of*, help people who may not be incredibly familiar with each other grow to know each other/grow closer.

Now, this is the kind of open prompt that can invite an answer that I think may feel a bit nice and homey but also, feels a bit of a bullshit dodge from me, the person providing the answer. Because, just as every game is educational, every game gives you an opportunity to understand someone, every game gives you a chance to grow to know someone else and get closer to them. And that’s true, but it’s meaninglessly true, it’s trivially true. If you asked that question, if you asked for that kind of game, then chances are telling you ‘the answer was inside you all along’ feels like I’m just avoiding the responsibility my implied expertise offers.

Plus, this person gives me money.

Which makes me feel decidedly assholey about bouncing on my responsibilities here.

With that in mind, I dedicated time to work out an answer to this kind of game idea, and I got an answer but it’s an answer my current skillset doesn’t really address. I think, knowing what I do about what webpages can do, that this is probably a game that a very skilled person could make run out of, like, a webpage, but I do not know how to approach it.

Let’s just talk about the game as a design and my mentality behind it.

I have been fascinated for some time by a game mechanic that I first encountered watching a description of Werewolf. The basic mechanic is ‘and then, the players close their eyes.’ This was a horizon-expander for me because suddenly I was faced with confronting the idea that there was a game to be played when a major avenue of experience was cut off, and that there was a theatrics you can create by people closing their eyes.

The first time I met Ettin, we talked about games and anime and design and that inevitably led to Death Note. I suggested a design that involved a hidden information journaling game, where the players would be adding to a journal, but at various points where the players would close their eyes and one player secretly added to the journal. This idea is still, to me, exciting. Even as I talk about it now, I can imagine ways to circumvent the most obvious problem that Ettin pointed out to me immediately:

Wouldn’t they just be able to tell each other’s handwriting apart?

And okay, that is a big problem. I already think that there’s a way to solve it, now, which I’m thinking about because I’ve had years to stew on the idea (like, say, make it so that secret player gets to scrub words, or cross them out). Or maybe make it so that part of what the players are doing is a maze, together. Who knows. Point is, that that idea was something that relied on people inputting text and then coming to try and construct some meaning out of that text being made reliable or unreliable by the people around them, deducing who did or did not do things or what they were doing them to achieve.

And I got thinking about that, about the way that writing lets you create fiction and entirely arbitary stuff and the way that writing is hard to do without presenting individualised distinctive traits. Because in this case what I am now thinking about is a game where you don’t want to be able to consider the person who gives you the words as part of how you experience that fiction.

And that’s an area where typing takes care of everything.

The idea is this: The players are playing researchers picking through a remote space station, with a gulf of time between now and when the place fell apart. But the process of getting to it involves a time anomaly, which means that each player is going to have a different position in time compared to all the others, and that means that they can’t talk to one another. What you can do however is send messages forwards to other players in the line, using a limited word interface for storing text data.

Basically, because this text needs to survive decades, the computers simplify it, which means the vocabulary you can select from is highly ambiguous.

The challenge of the game then is not about solving some systemic puzzle in the game, but rather, in piecing together a journal, composed of the experiences of the characters going through this space. It’d be a shared storytelling story, where the whole point is that you don’t know which of your crewmates are contributing to this text archive or how, and you don’t know which are the base text you’re trying to decode. The end of the game comes when you do your best to explain in your own words what people experienced and then those explanations get compared all at once and you see who chose what words to describe what experience.

Now, you could do this with, I’m pretty sure, webpages. You could make it so it flowed through a flowchart, and let you select the phrases you could use, and the focus you could bring to people’s attention…

But I don’t know how!

Also, this would be a kind of journaling game that’s played collaboratively, and like any given journalling game, has no real vision of victory. The end goal is to make sure that everyone can identify some traits in the story that represent being able to solve the time loop, but also that’s just the basics. The actual ‘victory,’ the meaningful output of the game, is looking at the story you each told each other over time, and how well that story is conveyed. Plus, a game step might involve seeing who in the group you can attribute each story to.

There’s an existing writing/drawing game that does this, you might have seen called Fax Machine or Telestrations which operates on the same way, ambiguating the information that you were given, step by step, but in this case, the purpose would be to try to understand who is telling you what story, how, and what ambiguities they don’t notice they created.

And I couldn’t really do it.

The other big problem is it involves a tie-in challenge of making a game primarily of interest to people who want to play a thoughtful, weird, artsy storytelling game, which is not a big community, and of that community, they have so many options, that it’d be very hard to find people who resonate with this specific idea to see if the idea works.