What’s the game about?
Gentrification is about a player moving to a transitioning neighborhood. They just graduated from college with some student loans to pay off and they got a job in the city. Now they’re moving to an affordable neighborhood near their job – their goal is to get an apartment.
Where did the idea come from?
I grew up in New York City until I was nine, on the Upper West Side and in Harlem. I moved back to Harlem a few years ago, and it was crazy how much the neighborhood had changed since the last time I had been there. All of a sudden, we had a Whole Foods moving in down the street, a climbing gym moving in, and fancy coffee shops popping up. It’s the process of gentrification in action.
I was at a bookstore (in Harlem, coincidentally) when I found a book called “In Defense of Housing,” by David Madden and Peter Marcuse, that talks about the underlying causes of gentrification which I found interesting and which got me thinking about using it as a subject for my game.
How is your game radical?
My plan for my game is to build a simple and relatable environment in which the player’s goal is to get an apartment so they can begin to work (and begin to pay off their student loan). Through interactions with NPCs and the environment, it will become clear to the player that by taking the path of least resistance – simply renting an apartment – they will be at odds with the best interest of the neighborhood. They’ll be taking part in and perpetuating the gentrification that is negatively impacting the neighborhood and the community.
How did your paper prototype play?
The paper prototype played well. I was very informative to see my idea for the game having been physically built. And it certainly helped to see my game through the eyes of potential players.
People responded well to the game design. The main feedback I got was that there wasn’t a clear enough idea of what my game was about. The class was able to figure it out on their own but it took some teasing out for them to get there. Moving forward, that’s something I’d like to pay special attention to – making sure that the directive is clear at every point in the game.
My initial plan was to make the game with a black and white color palette but in the play through, someone suggested trying it with color.
The third main feedback I got, was to give my NPCs a point of view, driven by some motivation in their interactions.
What are your three NPC encounters in level one?
In level one, I’m planning to have my character encounter an apartment building owner from whom he can rent an apartment, the owner / manager of a new hip coffee shop that just opened up, and the owner of a corner deli whose family has been in the neighborhood for several generations.
How did these encounters express your game idea?
Those three characters all experience the gentrification of a neighborhood from very different perspectives. Each plays a different role in the community. And each will be affected differently, and each has a different motivation.
The apartment owner has already been a part of the community but will want to take advantage of the trend of increased demand for his apartment and will probably raise the cost of rent.
The coffee shop owner is new to the area and is looking to capitalize on the influx of a new demographic of people to the neighborhood – one willing to pay extra for their coffee if it comes with a certain atmosphere.
The corner deli owner’s business may be threatened by the wave of gentrification.
How do your game encounters support a help and hinder paradigm in your design?
The player will have to decide for themselves how they choose to act, while progressing toward their goal. Their actions will either contribute to the gentrification of the neighborhood or they will help to support the community.
Characters like the coffee shop owner or the apartment owner benefit from the gentrification of the neighborhood. In interacting with them, the player will be pushed toward a simpler path to the goal of securing an apartment to live in.
Only by talking to other characters, like the deli owner, who don’t necessarily benefit from gentrification, will the player be able to find a path to their goal that doesn’t contribute to the gentrification of the neighborhood.
How is your game build progressing?
The build is coming along well. I have most of the art completed for the level. I still have to make some animations for my NPCs and background elements of the city in the distance. The code seems to be coming together well.
How are you using color in this game?
After my first paper game play-through, the class suggested adding color to the game. I played around with it and I like the result – though I’m still nailing down a clear color script that will clearly define my character in relation to the world around him.
Still, for now, I enjoy working in this simple palette; I think it gives the city a cool feel.
What was the rationale behind your level design?
I liked the idea of making a 2d side-scroller, set in Brooklyn. I think it sets up a lot of fun opportunities to design fun maps.
So far, I’m trying to keep a lookout for where I place the buildings I design and what that means for the community I’m creating, in doing so.
Where in your elements did you intervene to make the design of the game unconventional?
My ultimate plan for the game – although it may be a bit beyond the scope of this class – will be to add a bit of a fantastical / supernatural element to the third act. The evil that’s truly causing the gentrification to take place has its roots in the city (literally) and I plan to hint at this throughout the first and second acts of the game.
How does your game ‘say a lot with a little?
Visually, the world I’m creating is designed to be simple and yet expressive. The characters are minimal and yet have enough details to convey a sense of who they are and what their relationship to the environment is.
How does your design act to express your theme or story?
If all goes as planned, the environment that the character is moving through will change and respond to the decisions that the player makes. If the player doesn’t consciously make decisions that will strengthen and benefit the community, they’ll see the level changing.
As an example, when gentrification rises, you’ll start to see tags disappearing and being replaced with commissioned art.
Can the player see what’s important in this early level?
The player’s goal – to rent an apartment without contributing to the gentrification of the neighborhood – will be very clear in this level. NPC interaction will be the biggest way in which I can make that happen.
How does your aesthetic emphasize emotion?
The goal of my game is to make the player aware of the negative impact gentrification can have on a neighborhood, help them to understand what causes it and what can be changed, and to empathize with the people who are impacted by the changing community.
- Interact with bank worker Clint, who appears worried but brightens as soon as he sees Casper to tell him a bit about the bank.
- Get coffee, which can later be given to Tessa to improve her mood toward the player.
- Second encounter with Clint, where upon further prodding he reveals that he was worried because his boss scheduled him to work all this week, thereby depriving him of time to shop for an anniversary present for his husband in time for their date on Friday. In my mind, after this conversation a few set items would move slightly.
My game Union Town (a working title) is about an unnamed new hire at a fast food restaurant. You play as this new hire, making connections with the other workers by getting to know them, picking up shifts, and bumming them cigarettes in order to form a union. Meanwhile, the manager of the restaurant offers you a raise and the employee of the month award if you refuse to help out your coworkers and only flip burgers. I got the idea for my game because this is actually what my brother is doing right now in Portland. He’s working on a union campaign at a fast food restaurant chain, flipping burgers and building relationships with his coworkers and helping them learn the power of the union. Talking to him about his day-to-day life as a union organizer gave me the idea for my game. He’s having fun working on building the union, but building community in the face of corporate isolation and the trauma of poverty created by working minimum wage jobs is tough work. This game is radical because it examines this process of union building, promotes values of class solidarity, questions the ethical authority of managers and bosses. The main radical aspect of this game, though, is its promotion of radical friendship and solidarity building. Though the tactics of striking, boycotting, and other contentious means of forming a union are definitely vital to organizers, the radical nature of relationship building is an essential and undervalued aspect of organizing that I want to highlight in this game. My paper prototype played fairly well during the Paper Game class, I had some trouble creating and nailing down the interactions for each level.
I had planned my game around the player having options for response, this mistake definitely showed through during the paper game play through, and working around that has been a little difficult. But I’ve figured it out for the first level at least, where the player begins outside the back of the restaurant.
Here, there are three NPC encounters. The first is with a former worker of this restaurant, who informs the player of their task to unionize the workplace. He tells the player that he had been fired for organizing and warns the player to watch out for the manager.
Another encounter on this level is with the trashbags, among which the player finds a pack of cigarettes that they can then use to build friendships with other workers. The final encounters in this level is with another worker who is outside on a smoke break. He asks to bum a cigarette, and if the player has already picked up the pack of cigarettes from the trash, the worker continues talking and tells you about his work woes. After he finishes talking, the manager comes out and tells him his break is over. Then the manager turns to the player and tells him to not mingle with the other workers because they’re lazy etc. and that you should just stick to flipping burgers if you want to be employee of the month. These encounters work to express my game idea by first setting up the goal of the game with the former worker, then providing an opportunity to build friendship and solidarity with a worker right off the bat. The help and hinder paradigm is then seen when the manager comes out and offers you an alternative goal for the game, achieving employee of the month. My gamebuild is progressing fairly well considering it is my first game. I’ve made one level in Unity with one interaction. I am having some trouble with the animation, as it seems to be skipping when the player walks down and to the side (though not walking up, for some unknown reason). It’s going slowly but surely, and I’m enjoying learning how Unity works.
My use of color is somewhat strategic. I plan on utilizing less and less color as the player moves through the levels. In the first level, the back of the restaurant, the assets are very colorful. The layout of the level is also very open, the player can move around the road/parking lot and has to explore the level to see the other worker. This is meant to make the player feel free, able to move around and engage with the level without any visible constraints. This serves as a juxtaposition for the following two levels.
The second level is a bit more closed and a bit less colorful. I use grayscale and browns to make the player feel less free. Its rather empty (there will be NPCs in this level, however). The grayscale is meant to represent the feelings of boredom and entrapment that workers of minimum wage jobs often feel. The third level, the shop floor, is an exaggerated version of this. It will look more like a prison or cage with less color and less room to move around. I don’t think I’ve intervened enough to make this game unconventional, so far it is pretty straightforward, but the structuring of the levels is somewhat unconventional in that it is not necessarily linear. The player can move between the levels freely, moving toward and away from the imprisonment by capitalism.
I think this game, though fairly simple, puts forth some big ideas about the power of building relationships when confronting capitalism. The game is not just getting union card signatures and striking, but actually interacting with other workers and forging strong friendships with them by getting to know them. In the end, it is this solidarity that helps build unions, not just old leftist tactics. This is something we can all stand to learn, leftists and non-leftists alike. Often, leftists get caught up in the glamorous, contentious aspects of organizing work, thinking that the radical work is the disruptive work. But this game is meant to serve as a reminder that radicalism also manifests in acts of friendship, and the power of radical friendship is not something to be dismissed or undervalued in the fight against capitalism.
My game is about a cowboy in a movie set of an old west movie. Players progress through shooting various scenes in the movie with freedom of choosing how the scenes play out. Their previous actions they take dictates the actions they can take in future scenes. For example, helping the bandit early on could mean not being able to talk to the sheriff later on. After shooting the scenes, players get to see what kind of movie they’ve made at the end.
The idea came from the development process of the game. At first, I wanted to make a game about the pressure to conform to a role in front of other people. After researching the old west genre, I decided a more interesting theme to explore would be the dissonance in the escape and immersion popular entertainments promise and the stereotypes they actually show.
To bring out this idea, my game puts the player in both the shoes of the producer and the audience of entertainment. After the players decide on the type of movie this is going to be about, they are forced to consume it. Through this, I call attention to the decisions made for us by the producers of the media we consume and the stereotypes they reinforce. I purposely break immersion with the movie sets to call out the lack of immersion breaking that encourages consumers to passively consume media.
Early on in development, I made a paper prototype to test out some of the ways I could explore this idea within a game environment. My paper prototype was based on an earlier idea of the game where players had no choice but to conform to stereotypes. I learned that the traditional gamey elements like quests and dialogue options were too distracting. By stripping my game of some traditional elements, I was able to bring out the focus of my game.
Through that process, I was able to iterate on various ideas that resulted in what I have now. Currently, I have just the first level partially built. The NPC encounters in the first level are the director, bandit, saloon girl, and sheriff. The director sets the scene of a cowboy looking for a place to stay. The rest of the NPCs each represents a “type” of cowboy the player could play. They all offer a solution for the player’s problem. By choosing the align with the bandit, saloon girl, or sheriff, players will have decided on if they want to play the bad, carefree, or good cowboy respectively. Throughout the game, players will be given the options of staying with their alignment or straying away from it.
Currently, I’m working on getting my first level to run with dialogues and traversals smoothly. I’m still establishing some of the base codes of the game. Once that is done, it should be a matter of writing and building out the rest of the game.
Regarding the aesthetic designs, I’m using bright colors to contrast the muted and dark color scheme of the western world. The various movie set objects in the game should stand out with their industrial and bright colors. I’m contemplating on potentially changing the colors of the game to show the player’s current alignment with the type of narrative they’re on the path to create.
One of the design challenges I face is to find a way to convey choice. In a traditional game, a choice is typically presented with a drop-down menu describing the various actions players could take. However, I wanted to reinforce the idea that in real life, our choice and actions aren’t always going to be laid out for us. To do this, I’ll be applying the design strategy of presenting players with options before the choice. For example, in the example of my first level, players naturally encounter with the bandit. The bandit provides the option of stealing a key from the sheriff. However, to choose that option, players will have naturally encounter their two other options before being given the ability to make the decision. Once this pattern is established, I plan to have more obscure options players can take to communicate the idea that our choices about personal identity require exploration and are not always the first option presented.
While I haven’t fleshed out the full story of the game yet, I plan to keep my game fairly short in order to encourage replay attempts. I think the message becomes the clearest when players become more conscious of their actions and consequences. By having two gameplay experiences, they have a different result to compare to. Some may argue that the intended replayability makes the game’s choices less meaningful. However, I think the players’ own curiosity to explore the various options in the narrative is exactly the mindset I want them to have. The curiosity to explore the options is more important to me than living up to the consequences of the actions.
Early on in the game, the impact of the players’ choices is not immediately obvious. It’s not until later in the game when restrictions are placed on the choices they can make are the results of their actions obvious. At this point, some players may feel a bit of frustration or guilt in their lack of freedom. I think this is positive for the game because it encourages people to replay the game. However, they will always end up with a coherent narrative where the cowboy is reinforcing some sort of stereotypical narrative. If the lack of control at the end takes players out of the immersion and gets them to think about how they’ve constructed their narrative, then I will have succeeded in getting my message across.
I didn’t plan for the game to be so reflective of some of the things in life I’m working through right now. The process of creating this game is forcing me to look deeper at some of the influences (both positive and negative) I had growing up. I hope that this experience will not only help me grow personally but also result in a shareable product that inspires introspection for other people as well.