Teaching Papers, Please, to Students Going Abroad

This semester, I began teaching for the first time a course of my own design. It’s an interdisciplinary University Seminar course aimed at looking at games and how games can be used to explore issues and create empathy for people outside of our current, real world understanding. It’s called Story Games for Social Exploration, and it asks whether games are worthy of being academic art and how, exactly, they uniquely explore issues. Originally the course was meant to focus purely on Storytelling Tabletop Games, such as American Freeform style games or Jeepform games, but I eventually expanded it to include story-driven digital games, as well.

Now, I am teaching this class for the first time to a classroom of eight students in Mumbai, India. The experience has been incredibly interesting and rewarding in a lot of ways, greatest of all because of the intersection between the different ways we perceive the world and its social issues—myself as an American, and my familiarity with how the West perceives these issues, and the students’ perception of the issues both as someone from a very different geographic culture and fairly different youth culture.

One of the games that produced a lot of discussion was the digital game Papers, Please. In it, players take the role of a border patrol agent in a police state, trying to survive on their limited rations while processing migrants as quickly and efficiently as possible. The idea of the game is that in order to survive, in order to make enough money to feed your family, you must stop thinking of the individual migrants as people. You are forced in gameplay to strip away the humanity of the characters and turn them into a list of facts that must be checked and double-checked. If the information checks out, you let them through. If it doesn’t, you don’t. It doesn’t matter if they’re a good person or not. It doesn’t matter if they’ll be killed because you turned them away, or if they’re crossing the border as part of a sex slave operation. All that matters is doing your job, and feeding your family.

 

Papers Please Long
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Heirs to Bloody Glory

I’ve always wanted to make games. I’m fascinated with game design, and I love games as a way to tell stories. I’ve tried my hand at board games and roleplaying games, and I think I’m getting better (though I obviously have a long way to go.)

One of the coolest things I’ve found is Twine, a program/engine for creating and playing text-based games. It’s all CSS/html based and it’s super easy to use, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in telling interactive narratives.

A few months ago I met with my good friends Christopher DiCicco and Mathew Kabik for a weekend of writing. While they worked on their stories (I think Chris created his gorgeous “Her Heart a Thundering Steed” on that trip) I opened up twine and started writing a game about two knights having a duel.

The game, I think, became a lot more than that, and ended up being “Heirs to Bloody Glory.” It’s a short, small narrative game with only two real paths, but I like to think it packs a lot in a short timeframe. I really like the characters, and it’s the first thing I’ve created that I desperately want fanart for.

The great thing about games is making the mechanics work alongside the story, to complement it and give it more effect and meaning. I wanted to do that with “Heirs,” though the mechanics are largely just formatting and the branching paths. It’s about warrior-slaves and their relationships and fighting without knowing why, and I honestly don’t think the story could be told as well in a traditional format.

Working with Twine was a lot of fun, and there are a lot of features I didn’t toy around with in “Heirs to Bloody Glory.” Next time I want to tackle something longer, include more paths and player choices and include variables, maybe even an inventory. In my mind I can see myself falling down some Wolf in White Van-esque rabbit hole–becoming obsessed with an infinite-options roleplaying game, getting lost creating forever, searching until madness for the Trace Italian…

But honestly, who has the patience for that?

 

 

Plasma Frequency Year Two Anthology

Lots of exciting news coming out this week! Also nerdy things!

First off, my story “The Shrike,” which originally appeared in Issue 11 of Plasma Frequency, won the Reader Poll to be included in Plasma Frequency’s Year Two “Best-Of” Anthology, representing Issue 11 along D.A. D’Amico’s “Bittersweet” (probably my favorite story in Issue 11, too). The Anthology will be coming out sometime in November, and I can’t wait. I’m sure it’ll be gorgeous, and I know I’m sharing ToC space with some amazing writers. So thank you to everyone who voted for “The Shrike”! It’s so crazy to see it get this kind of recognition.

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