So a few months ago I made a game that a lot of people liked. It was very self expressive, it was very personal. It was Unconventional. It was posted to a blog and someone else made a lets-play video out of it.
I decided to submit Scarred to the International Game Festival, for a sum of about $90. I wasn’t expecting it to get in, I wasn’t expecting feedback either.
But today that feedback came. These are the two comments I got, I’ve bolded the best parts.
Your stated goal is to make psychological scars visible through gameplay. But you do this in a pretty overt way that actually manages to become formulaic by the end of the (short) experience: the avatar gets insulted by peers, wanders through an empty labyrinth, then gets insulted again by an authority figure. Then then get plunged into water (either literally or metaphorically, depending on the level?) at which point the avatar now has red streaks in its texture. Seems like a statement that could have been made better in another medium, like a comic strip, and the fact that it’s a game is almost accidental but doesn’t seem like it really supports the overall message.
The first level, you’re walking through a city to get to a bar where you presumably are drinking heavily. The second level you’re at school and end up in gym class. The final level you’re at some cubicle farm and end by failing a performance review. The ordering made no sense to me - it’s obviously not chronological, so why am I going through the levels in this specific order? Felt arbitrary.
The only real gameplay here is exploring each level, but there’s not really a lot to explore - the paths are either linear, or laid out in an arbitrary featureless grid, with nothing to really do anywhere and no indication of where your goal is. And sure, you can say this is a metaphor for living with depression or some such, but I actually didn’t feel depressed as I played this game - I felt frustrated. Frustrated at the fiddly controls that made it difficult to turn precisely or to read the words floating in the air on some levels. Frustrated at having to slowly traverse a meaningless maze just so something else could insult the avatar. And there’s a dissonance there between what I was feeling, and what the avatar was obviously feeling. The avatar looks sad, hopeless, pathetic, maybe a bit numb, but not really angry or fed up or ready to rage-quit. So if the goal here was to get the player to empathize or to feel a certain emotion, I think you missed the mark a bit. (Admittedly, if that’s what you’re doing, you’re attempting something very difficult and outside the ordinary so I can’t really give much practical advice on how to redesign the game to reach your design goals. You’re experimenting outside the edge of what’s been done, so all I can say is to try some new directions.)
You have to convey your message better. I had no clue what I was doing and why.
Clearly Person #1 was wishing for a 3rd person cover shooter. Clearly Person Number #2 was wishing for a First Person Shooter.
I’m proud of Scarred because someone came up to me and told me they were making a game about their depression and their experiences, because they played the game and saw that self-expression through games could be A Thing. I’m proud of Scarred because someone made a lets-play video if it on youtube, and nearly all of the hundreds of comments for it were positive.
I sent Scarred to the IGF after seeing what Liz Ryerson was doing with Problem Attic. and I thought that maybe there was room “out there” for something like this.
I guess there is, but not at the IGF.
I’m not sure what to think. I guess I’ll keep making games because FUCK YOU. But I certainly won’t be participating in the IGF anymore, regardless of what I make.