Design, Games

Two Years After Connecting

So it’s been two years since I made my first game, Connecting, with my friend Sandy Gardner. That doesn’t seem right to me – it feels like maybe a year at best – but it’s true. It’s not an anniversary I think anybody other than the pair of us would really want to commemorate, but I thought it would be nice to write something short about what the game tried to achieve, what my intentions and grander designs were with that prototype.

In case you didn’t know, Connecting was made in 3 days for the 30th Ludum Dare with the theme of “Connected Worlds”. The player is stuck in an airport waiting on a connecting flight home, and begins texting with their partner, Sam. The conversation moves on to the topic of the player’s night out with their friend Robin the previous night, during which the player can confess or deny that something happened with Robin (“something” ranging from Robin coming on to you, to the two of you drunkenly making out, to the two of you sleeping together).

The game is essentially a small-scale experiment in subjective narrative. My intention was that players would decide what had happened the night before as they were responding to Sam. For instance, if the player denied that anything happened with Robin, they could decide to themselves whether they were telling the truth or not, casting themselves in the role of a lying adulterer or the falsely accused…not-adulterer(?) So the game has a narrative and a meta-narrative essentially: the former encompassing the events that happen within the text of the game, and the latter the events that the player imagines having happened outside the text.

In terms of the game’s success in conveying this, I don’t think it does. At least, the text of the game does nothing to signal this to the player. Any indication of the game’s subjective narrative-dynamic is dependent entirely on the paratext, specifically this post on the Ludum Dare website in which I explain the very player-text relationship I want the game to create. Playing the game without this prior understanding (I’d imagine) feels like just playing through a small dialogue tree with an unclear backstory.

That’s not to say I think the game is bad at what it does, or even completely unsuccessful. Instead, I think it highlights the possibility for a different dynamic between the player and the game text when it comes to giving the former narrative agency.

To illustrate: in most games, the player is a reactionary to the narrative. They are dropped into to a pre-crafted universe, introduced to its various conflicts, relationships and mechanisms through quests, logs and dialogues, and are then given various options that allow them to respond to the events of the game within the framework of the game’s world as described to them. What I wanted to attempt with Connecting is a baby-step towards bringing the player on board as a co-author of the conflicts, relationships and mechanisms on an intimate scale. What would be really interesting would be if this could be properly achieved in the game text, without the player having to rely on a manual, or a blog post, to engage with this kind of story fluidity. Right now, I can’t imagine how this would be done. I can’t even think how it would be achieved on anything other than an intimate, personal scale. But I’d like to think it could be done anyway.

I like Connecting. I like what it achieved, and I like what it promises. What I like most about it is that it’s small, deeply personal, and, due in huge part to Sandy Gardner’s great art, very sweet.

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