Level Design: Anxiety

For my autobiographical version of the space shooter game, I decided to make mine about my anxiety. I find anxiety to be more of an abstract concept than anything tangible, so I chose to make the art of the game abstract, rather than rely on any cliches of what anxiety is like. Part of the assignment was to have an animated explosion, and I thought that having chaotic scribbles as an enemy explosion would fit the tone of the game. I find that anxiety manifests as a sort of chaotic feeling, and so I wanted to contrast this with a more serene visual for the player. I made the player a circle filled with a watercolor of blues and purples. I found these colors to be soothing and having the player be a plain circle added to the idea of order and uniformity fighting off a chaotic element.

I had the most fun designing the explosion animation. I started with a plain black scribble and had it fade to white. Initially, I wanted the explosion to look like it was fading away. While making the game, however, I had difficulty having the explosion do what I wanted. Rather than fading into the background and disappearing, it seemed to repeat itself and grow in size. It looked pretty cool, so I thought I would incorporate this into my game.

I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do the background for this game. It had to be scrolling, so I just created a soft green background. It worked within the metaphor as it felt like a serene space with the colors and the player until the enemies attacked. I was bored by this though, so I sped up the speed of the scrolling backgrounds. Speeding up the background gave the sensation of falling, which created more of a feeling of urgency to the game. I added in some darker color backgrounds to alternate with the green ones to add more of a feeling of chaos. At that point, between the constantly switching backgrounds and the enemy explosions that don’t disappear, the game was very hard to look at. It had some of the intention I wanted, which was to create a feeling of anxiety, but it was so constant in the game with no way to escape from it, which I thought made the game very unfun, and more just visually assaultive.

I had been toying with other concepts I could have as a background, so I tried having just a plain black screen as the background. It created a really interesting effect, which is that you can see the player but not the enemy. The animations stayed the same though, which meant that you could see the white scribbles from the explosions. The more enemies you shoot, the more white animations were on the screen, making it easier to see incoming enemies. I really liked the effect this had. The more you worked at it, the easier it got. I thought it fit well within the theme of the game, cause that’s kind of how anxiety works. It can start out hard, and you don’t know what you’re fighting, but over time it gets easier, and everything keeps getting lighter.

I’m not sure this game counts as a “game,” in that there’s no way to win. Most of the texts we’ve read this semester indicate that for a game to be a game, there needs to be a win state. There is no win state in this game. Each play you get four lives, and once those lives are depleted, the game ends. I didn’t set up a scoring system, so the game only lasts as long as you do. Theoretically, the game could continue on forever, as long as you keep shooting the enemies. Part of this was because I didn’t know how I wanted to set up my scoring system, but part of this was also because I thought it would fit the metaphor of the game. I liked the idea that you could stop the enemy, but not completely destroy it, because that’s how I feel anxiety works in real life. This whole thing could probably be described better as a simulation than a game.

I want to continue working on this game. If I were to expand on it, I would want to try to have the game function as I originally intended it to, which is to say, as a game. I think adding different levels could help enhance this, as well as adding some kind of narrative. I was never completely satisfied with any of the elements other than the enemy explosions, so I would want to spend more time creating a player and other game elements that would tie everything together.