Trolley: Problemed.

So today-ish I “released” Trolley Problem into the world – you can check it out over at the games page if you’re interested in playing it (doesn’t take long). Actually, “released” doesn’t need to be in quote marks so much as usual because Kill Screen were awesome enough to announce the game as part of their news feed, so I even felt a bit official. The Kill Screen community is my absolute favourite place to discuss game making – I’ve never had anything but excellent and interesting discussions there. Lucky to have it.

Anyway, the major victory with Trolley Problem was, I think, overcoming the laziness that surrounded its creation. It was a bit of a double-edged affair. For one thing I felt totally wiped out by the reaction to The Artist Is Present and thus somehow less capable of moving on to the next game with alacrity. For another, Trolley Problem is basically really, really simplistic as games go. There was no technical challenge involved with making it, nor much of an aesthetic challenge once I decided on the particular philosophy of its representation as being unremittingly low fidelity. That basically made me take quite a lot longer to finish than I should have. (On the plus side the next game, which I will discuss another time, is already well under way – so a much better turn-around this time it seems.)

I haven’t seen a huge amount of reaction to the game outside of my discussions with _Kill Screen_ers as yet, so not sure how it’s striking people, but thought I would record my thoughts here for the moment. Making this particular game came up because I like to talk about ethics and philosophy to my experimental interaction course. I brought up the trolley problem in class a few weeks ago and we talked through, essentially, why it would never work out as a game – in essence because gamers (a) don’t really care about their ethical decisions (not strictly true of course, but has some truth), and (b) will tend to choose “both” in a dilemma. Once we had all decided it wouldn’t pan out as a game, I obviously had to make it.

The “high-minded” reason for making it was to explore an alternative avenue for having people care about their decisions in a game. My thought was to pretty much strip away everything I could think of that smacked of some kind of valuation from the game, with the (almost certainly mistaken, but still) ambition of loading the maximum amount of “decision making” onto the player’s moral decisions. That meant the minimum of graphics (though I still wanted graphics because that’s more fun), no “rewarding” animations of death etc. (just a beep and a figure turning red and no longer animating), and the flattest voice I could manage in all the texts the game uses to communicate. A very early insight into how I wanted it to be was that the game would just register “okay” after each choice you made, and that was my guiding principle for how to have it go aesthetically.

In the end, partly just because I could and I liked that One Chance used it, I went with making the game “non replayable” (obviously you can if you just monkey with the cookies – but then perhaps you’d ask yourself, why am I monkeying with these cookies just to remake a moral decision?). I thought it was fitting that you just choose one time, again to lend seriousness to the proceedings, and also just that it’s pretty hilarious in such a tiny and aesthetically unappealing game that it only gives you one chance – as if you’d even want to play it again, etc.

On the balance I’m pretty happy with how the game came out. It’s very simple and straight forward, but it does provide you with the basics of the trolley problem, and I do think it largely avoids giving you any information for decision making beyond your own brain and feelings about these things. As such, I like to imagine the people playing it perhaps actually giving a slight damn about what they choose and, largely, being okay with how they end up.

As for me: switch, switch, shove, no switch (wife).

7 October 2011
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