Game Design in Type I Error
Type I Error is an interactive, transmedia project. It could also be considered a game. It certainly shares a lot of elements with video games especially. Today I’d like to talk about the element of audience agency, of choice.
Above is a snapshot of part of Type I Error in the Twine Editor. As you can see it is complicated. At this stage we are only a third way to completion so the project will be even more complicated than what you see here. Players move between the boxes using those lines which are linked to words. They cannot see the overall structure. It is as though they’re in a maze.
At the moment I’m trying to engineer the game so that it is non-linear and challenging but not confusing or frustrating. Finding a balance can be difficult. I’ve been asking friends to ‘play test’ the game and share their thoughts. As a non-linear game everyone has their own way of going through the story. It is also interesting that as Max and I have designed the layout of the game, I know where to go at any given point, I am not able to design my own maze. This can designing ‘Type I Error’ tricky as we have to tweak the mechanics based on other peoples feedback. My friends are not established ‘gamers’ and so lack the vocabulary to express why they might like or not like certain elements (See my post on game criticism here). Here are some scenarios that we have come up against and dealt with.
Occasionally in the convoluted parts of the project a loop forms where players go to where they think will progress the narrative and instead go to an earlier. This is extremely frustrating in a textual project as people do not want to read the same thing twice. A way of dealing with this is to ‘shuffle links’ so that a player is ‘spat out’ further than they started. Another methods is to avoid –
Too Many Links.
While some gamers may revel in a super dense story where every person and object has a backstory. We’ve had to try to make our links give a sense of richness without being too distracting. Too many and its confusing, too many and it leads to a –
Lack of Agency.
At the start of Type I Error the player is given a choice to answer the phone or not. A lot of people do not. This is a way of playing with the narrative of the project. They know the authors want them to so they don’t, so they can see what we do back. What we do is push them straight back into the narrative. We make them answer the phone. This is usually met with laughter. These non-gamers know when they are being pushed around in a game. We are curtailing their agency. As Janet Murray (1997) would say ‘agency is not the same as authorship’, but they do want to see consequences for their actions. We have a second phone call later on where the audience is able to have a higher degree of latitude. They can go off for a couple of beats, but they are drawn back eventually. Otherwise the story would immediately double in size! We try to give them as much autonomy as possible but autonomy is extremely hard to cater for.
Murray, J (1997). ‘Chapter 5: Agency.’ In Hamlet on the Holodeck. Cambridge, USA: The MIT Press.