Monday, April 20, 2009

Blogs of the Round Table: April '09

Taking Games Seriously, Making Game Seriously: This month’s Round Table challenges you to design a game that deals with a social issue that personally troubles you.

While my topic of choice this month isn't exactly something of an inflammatory nature, it leads into a social issue that I believe a lot of people are avoiding discussion about.
"Today, 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. Autism impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe. "

Autism is, frankly, a genetic epidemic. It is a massive drain on both private and public resources, and individual mental health. Unfortuantely, most people still don't understand the Autistic Spectrum, unless they happened to come across a serendipitous primetime news hour, or an issue of Time that deals with the subject.

This post will be an attempt to design a game that would allow people to understand what it's like to be in the mind of a severely Autistic person. I feel that much more empathy is needed by the populace at large, before they'll be able to make informed decisions on the welfare of Autistic people as a whole. The mechanics will be made primarily on inferance and intent, instead of psychological accuracy. I'll be basing the experience off of the habits of my step-brother.

I believe the best way to present Autism would be to have a particular Heads Up Display, on first person perspective.

The feeling I want players to have is that of frustration, caused by logic-based chaos. Glancing at a row of books would have them automatically count themselves off with both visual and audio cues. Subtlety would work best, so imagine a thin line with a circled number at the end of it. If an object is out of place in the arrangement, the line would be an angry contrasting color, to annoy the player into making things properly organized.

My step-brother can bang a plastic drinking glass on a surface in a perfect beat for hours, if his appetite allowed, while balancing random stuff on his head. His tactile sense is heightened and insatiable, compared to an average person's. These two factors will be represented as Hunger and Balance meters. Affected by those will be a Mood bar.

If you were to perform touch-based actions, place things on your head, or go swimming, your Balance meter will increase. If you eat, your Hunger bar decreases. And yes, they're supposed to be opposite, for the sake of chaos.

As your Mood bar suffers, so does the HUD. Your content semi-singing becomes more whiny or more bold and forced. More objects will be labeled as you see them, and they will be labeled with the most random pictures possible. Flipping the light switch will start producing pictures of dogs, clouds, and writing utensils. (He can also spend a long, long time flipping lights on and off.) Everything that should be producing pictures that group them together somehow, instead display things that have no logical connection.

As your Mood decreases, so does that of the people around you. As they become more stressed, they start doing the same thing as objects you see. In your vain efforts to understand what they're feeling, they begin making absolutely no sense in what they say and what they're labeled as.

It's meant to be more of a simulation, though attempting to play with the goal in mind of telling the NPCs around you something could work as well.

The point behind it all is that I feel very, very afraid about the future of disabled people. What's going to happen if we can't provide for them? What's going to happen when their parents die, and they're delegated to the government to be taken care of? Will their treatment be up to standards of human rights? What happens if the government can't? What happens when the people who need to make decisions, have to do so even though they have no idea about the subject?

Who's going to be there to prevent unethical scientific treatment? Who's going to be there to advise the parents after unfortunate genetic analysis of their newly-fertilized baby-to-be?

Who's going to answer the question no one can safely ask?


  1. Fantastic post. Very intense. You touch on so many difficult questions that currently have no good answers. Issues that are bigger than autism. They reach to all that cannot care for themselves.

    Hopefully talking about it/blogging about it will be the starting point.

  2. Hey hey, one step at a time! I'm too busy to move the world. Gimme a couple weeks and I'll get back to you on that.

  3. I'd like to see this basic mechanic applied to a game where you were forced to navigate social services without any help.