GDC: Monday Afternoon Thoughts
Really, Monday is the first day of the conference, but I’ve been here for three days, so I’m very confused about my time and numbering schemes. Either way, I have a few minutes to myself before dinnertime, so I figured I’d think aloud here.
I’ve pitched my general metaphor and concept to a few people, and been met with a lot of interest and enthusiasm—and with some really great advice. One researcher I spoke to, Sabine Harrer , made an especially awesome point, I felt. I referred to the fine line between validating illness and giving it too much power and said something to the effect of “yes, it’s okay that you feel that way, but, you can do something about it” and they caught me and shifted it into a “yes, and” statement—which in something that simple, shifted the paradigm of how I’ve thought about this delicate balance. The feelings associated with mental illness are valid and must be validated—and in the same breath, the person suffering from it must be empowered to live better alongside their illness. Priscilla White made a fun cognition change point in her talk regarding about her experiences with sleep paralysis, saying that rather than feeling as though a demon was keeping her frozen despite her being awake (a common old-time explanation for the phenomenon), it was instead an image of her cat sitting on her chest, wanting breakfast. Sabine referred back to that, and brought my idea of “coexisting” with the “monster” a visual element: this thing may never leave, but it can become less dangerous. It can evolve over time into a harmless form. This goes one step beyond simply “not fighting”, and brings me some really intelligent steps into the metaphor of my project.
A handful of speakers talked about making personal experiences into games; Jenny Jiao Hsia’s microtalk really hit home for me, considering she talked about being stuck on a project for a long time… Of course, our circumstances are different, but so are our methods. I talked a bit with one of the other speakers about the therapeutic potential of games; my interest for this thesis may primarily be in destigmatization, but nonetheless, the idea of effecting cognitive and behavioral change rung true. The microtalks as a whole hit me over the head with one of my most destructive tendencies, a poor thought process which kills ideas before they can be born: this deep-reaching complex and fear in my mind that all of my projects must be complete, polished, publishable work. I’m a writer and a doodler; why can’t I apply the principle of writing (and publishing!) drabbles, or drawing (and publishing!) sketches, to game making? What am I afraid of? I will work to dismantle this misperception in my mind as I move forward.
Healing through the process of creating a game, then handing a tool to those who play it so that they, too, may heal. It’s an amazingly powerful idea; stories have this power, and experiential stories, even more so.
The other set of microtalks I listened to were a bit more specific about addressing mental illness empathetically in games. It was awesome hearing takes on other illnesses and other experiences; I’ve got a small list of games I need to play building up as I go through GDC. I found it interesting that in one corner, Ella Lowgren chose to make a game very literal and true to life (Shrinking Pains); in the other, Jessica Fong of Lonely Egg chose to evolve and transform her experience in a beautifully abstract way. I think there’s power and merit to both of these approaches; still, I have yet to decide which one will work best for me, or what balance of the two I should strike for this game. I’m mostly excited to see and hear how much work is being done within this space of mental illness and empathy in games; I’m incredibly glad to hear about more projects I can potentially discuss in my paper.
Forming a healthy relationship with this project is essential: to do that, I have to start by communicating with it, and trying to set my boundaries bit by bit. But, we can’t get anywhere until we start. Depending on my spare time, I may start drafting a design philosophy for this game while I’m in San Fransisco.