Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sunday Game Concept: Disaster Response

I love it when ideas that have been rolling around in my brain click together and for something wonderful. Or something new. It's the same feeling I get when I'm programming, or troubleshooting, or (in this case) designing: pure rush as things make sense.

It's easly Sunday morning and and I'm going through The Routine. Computer on, browser open, check e-mail, delete spam, open Google Reader, browse my feeds. Except there's an email I sent myself on Wednesday, a reminder of something I stumbled across, that's been burning a hole in my brain. I wanted to share it -- that's why I sent it to myself -- only I didn't know how. I do now, and it gave me an even greater idea.

I suppose it really starts back on May 12 at 14:28 China Standard Time, when one of the largest earthquakes of our recent time, measuring 8.0 in magnitude, hit the Sichuan province of China [wiki]. Deaths total over 69,000. Rescue efforts lasted unending days and interminable nights, bringing in support from a global community. They are still recovering, and probably will be for some time.

Skip to last week. I had heard of the quake, sure. After all, it had been in the news. Reports of destruction, rising death counts, facts and figures. I ignored them. Just another quake, in a far off land. Just another disaster on the other side of the world. The news gives us a tremendous amount of information every day, but it is not their responsibility to make us relate to it. So I didn't.

Then I read theses: Coco Wang's 5.12 Earthquake Comic Strips. There are only 10, but they are worth every minute of your time. Coco tells a handful of stories that have come out of aftermath of the quake. Tales of triumph, of heroism, of courage, of bravery. Tales of the rescuers, and tales of the trapped. There is little comic in these drawings, but the drawn page is her medium, and she uses it well. It made it real, for me. Go and read them, take your time, I'll wait.

So, context explained and link shared, this is the idea that sprung from my brain as my neurons started revving up for the day. Or rather, this is the question that led to the idea: If comics, things that used to be only about humour and heroism, can be used to generate emotion and relational context for events then how can we make games that do the same things? I want to see games grow as a medium, and I've seen designers (indie and pro) try things in the last couple of years to stretch the boundaries of what games can do as tools for telling stories.

So here is my idea: We need to create a disaster response game. Yes, I've heard rumours that there are a few games out, and in the works, that play at emergency rescue situations. This is only half of what I'm talking about. I'm talking about building a game that doesn't pull any punches. You have to make choices about who needs to be rescued first, and that affects who can be rescued. You have to manage your teams responsibly, because their lives are in your hands too. Rescuing people doesn't always mean that they will make it. Sometimes it means that you do everything you can and you triumph as you pull them out, but they never make it to the hospital. The game mechanics should be wrapped around doing actions, and making choices, that affect who the rescuers are trying to save. Don't focus on tedium, don't focus on saving everyone. Just focus on the next people to pull from the wreckage. Try to get them out alive, try to get who ever you can. Sometimes saving one means losing another. Sometimes a dozen more people walk out of something that none of them should have survived.

I'm getting emotional writing about this, and I think it's beginning to show. I know that a game like this would not be easy to make. It would not be easy to play, if done right, and not because of difficulty curves.

This is only a concept, hardly a design. Perhaps it is more of a dream than anything. Using games to relate the world's events, sometimes things too big to fathom, might be our best chance of keeping the next generations (gamers each and every one) connected to each other in times of need.

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