PREMISE: Self Care Simulator was the first serious game I had ever worked on. Over the course of a three-week Summer session in Copenhagen, Denmark, I collaborated with a group of aspiring developers toward a game that dealt with a topic very near and dear to my heart--mental health. Our game's mantra, outlined on the loading screen, encouraged our audience to "always be kind." Juggling the everyday responsibilities of life is always hard; balancing mental health on top of it all can make things so much more difficult. Utilizing the Phaser3 Game Engine, our group built a prototype that aimed to not only illustrate, but accentuate the difficulties of this situation by putting the player inside the head of someone experiencing these challenges on a daily basis.

GAMEPLAY: In order to stay in the game, the player must maintain all five status bars: Exercise, Social, Food, Sleep, and Work. Each status requires a specific keyboard action to be refilled: to exercise, players must quickly alternate the left and right bracket keys; to socialize, players must correctly type out text messages; to eat, players must move their triangular avatar left/right with the arrow keys to catch food; to sleep, players must hold down the 'Z' key; to work, players must type out the numbers displayed on the calculator in correct succession. Only one of these tasks can be accomplished on the keyboard at a time, so players must divide their time accordingly. While at first, this may seem easy enough, soon mental health struggles will start to populate the screen. These events range from the benign occurrences of good days to the most debilitating lows of depression. Depending on both the nature and severity of each occurrence, these events will deplete the player's stats to various degrees. If any status bar falls above or below the denoted 'healthy' range, the player's overall health will decrease. When this reaches zero, the game is over. 

PURPOSE: The goal of the game is to last as long as possible despite the obstacles thrown at one's path. However, one defining trait of the game is that there is no win condition--the game is always lost. What serves to measure success is the amount of time a player can last in the game before losing. The idea is that players will not only realize the effort one must devote to balance the demands of daily life, but furthermore understand the nuances of difficulty brought on by the added responsibility of managing one's own mental health. While at first this may seem manageable, in-game timers slowly speed up the progression of these status depletions to further illustrate the compounding nature of these struggles such that eventually they will become unmanageable, resulting in the player's inevitable loss.

Self-Care Simulator

Crystal City

GAMEPLAY: Players' initial stats revolve around a single random element: race. Based completely on die rolls, players are assigned one of four fantasy races: Human, Elf, Dwarf, or Orc. From this starting point, the character's randomly-assigned race will have resonating consequences throughout the entire course of the game. Race influences the likelihood for one's assigned starting neighborhood (Hut, Cottage, Tower), and these two factors in turn further influence the player's starting Health, Gold, and Prestige. These must be maintained during the journey across the board. Single-space events and cards drawn on Fortune spaces further affect these stats, the specific consequences of which are affected by race. Players will soon reach the Gates of the Academy, where they must choose which their education path. Higher education levels require more resources in order to attain.

GAMEPLAY (Cont.): After completing (or omitting) their education, players reach the Guild Hall, where they are given a random selection of jobs. Once again, the more a given job pays, the higher level of education is needed. As denoted on the board, a player's race combined with their education level and any added Prestige points they wish to spend decide how many job opportunities will be available. In the final stage of the game, players move around the loop at the far end of the board, collecting their salary at each Loot space. If a player has more than 60 combined Health, Gold, and Prestige (plus a 2d6 roll) at the Gates, they can enter the city. If not, they must continue advancing around the loop until all but one player has entered the city. The last player left on the board is the loser, stuck in a cycle of poverty.

PURPOSE: While addressing the topic of race can be sensitive and difficult in many situations, the aim of our game was to frame the lesson in a fantasy setting, making important discussions on the subject matter easier to engage in. Crystal City can be played by audiences of all ages, but we found that adolescent players could stand to benefit the most from playing. After exposing them to such recurring oppression (or for some, privilege) that feels undeserved and often unwanted, we hope to inspire questions in the players' minds as to how or why these racialized events can take place in a fantasy world, and furthermore the real world. The end goal is to foster projection of this critical lens beyond the scope of the game, and to equip our players with more empathy and understanding,  when addressing race in their everyday lives.

Queen's Quest

PREMISE: Over the Summer 2019 term at UW-Madison, I worked with my Game Design I group to push out my first full-length analog game. Our projects had a strong emphasis on accomplishing a serious objective. We decided to tackle the topic of institutional racism. Players of Crystal City will move through an epic journey--many aspects of which will be heavily (positively or negatively) impacted by their character's fantasy race. In this world, rooted in racial hierarchy and Human oppression over the three remaining populations, the players' goal is to traverse the land and gather enough resources by the time they arrive to enter at the Gates of Crystal City, where the promise of a better and more equal future awaits.

*Full PDF of the game rules and more examples of Fortune/Job cards to be added soon.*

PREMISE: Queen's Quest, a self-proclaimed "Feminist RPG". The game was developed in RPG Maker MV over the course of the Fall 2019-2020 term at UW-Madison. I worked with my Game Design II group to formulate a fresh take on a classic and beloved genre. While the typical Hero's Journey narrative so prevalent in traditional Role-Playing Games can be regarded as timeless and charming, it is all too often overwhelmingly white, straight, and male. This personally hit home for myself, as a gay man who rarely (if ever) was exposed to positive LGBTQ+ representation in my most cherished games growing up. Thus, our idea of a Feminist RPG was born. My team was comprised of individuals that together made up a diverse collection of cultural backgrounds and world-views, as well as sexual and gender identities. Our ability to recognize the gross underrepresentation of strong and authentic female characters, people of color, and queer folks provided the starting point for our game's cast, which we hope players find is far more diverse and true to real life than most RPGs. Throughout the game, typical tropes of the genre are subverted in some subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. As the title may indicate, the story follows a young heroine, Princess Zora, on her journey to save her father and become Queen--the first Queen that her kingdom had ever known.

GAMEPLAY: Players accustomed to RPG gameplay staples will find themselves well at home here. While Queen's Quest may appear to be mechanically traditional, thematically it is anything but. The game is primarily played in a 2D, top-down view of the world through which the player navigates Zora and her allies. Our story begins in Zora's home of Arbordale, the Forest Kingdom. When her father suddenly goes missing, Zora sets out to find him--a quest that sends her on a mission to gather the five Sacred Stones of the elements. Players move around the world, interacting with NPCs, collecting and trading items and equipment to further their adventure. Of course, this quest is riddled with danger, sending the player through combat in a turn-based, side view battle system. As she grows her eclectic band of heroes and discovers her true inner power, Zora leads her party to the other four Kingdoms on the continent where the workings of a sinister plan slowly reveal themselves. In what becomes a race against time, Zora must complete her quest and unite the five Kingdoms as the fate of the continent hangs in the balance.

PURPOSE: Our game's character design is what allows Queen's Quest to break the tired RPG mold. Zora, our protagonist, subverts the history of the white male hero often so prevalent in RPGs. Not only are the norms of gender and race representation breached, as are those of sexual identity. Historically, the RPG genre has a reputation for LGBTQ+ erasure--or often worse, mockery. We aimed to tackle these issues by bringing positive, everyday representation of underrepresented identities into our fantasy world. Our main character is a strong woman of color. The healer in the party, Lucius, is a man, occupying a historically feminine combat role. Tern, a Flame Knight from the fire Kingdom of Ignan, is gender nonbinary. Populating the various kingdoms are other NPCs sharing many of these identities. The goal was to introduce our characters very matter-of-factly and existing simply as they are, rather than making a show of their perceived differences. This way, such representation can be taken in stride with the rest of the game, shaping characters with depth and dimension rather than caricatures with one or two defining traits. Despite our ambition, the timeline of a semester only allowed us to push out a prototype that showed off the first couple hours of gameplay, up to the Fire Kingdom. While we focused on making this prototype of the highest quality, the inevitable bug or balance issue came up every now and then--and while we did our best to squash them all, our timeline and team size limited the scope of our prototype. Currently, Queen's Quest development is on a pause, but it is a project that I will be working toward seeing to completion as time allows.

*Additional content of Queen's Quest to come.*

Note: This is a Video Game Project Portfolio

To view my Integrated Digital Art work, see Additional Content