Narrative framing in It is as if you were doing work

In the past couple of days I’ve really managed to get the basic structure of It is as if you were doing work up and running in terms of the idea of dialogs popping up, telling you what to do, and knowing whether or not you did that correctly. Part of me wanted to just scream “done!” and immediately upload the game to my website, but as we all know, just getting the basic mechanical nature of a game/thing running really isn’t the full picture. As I sat there starting at the dull grey background of the game, it was sadly apparent I need some kind of larger framing for the core activity of clicking around in dialogs - quelle surprise.

It’s especially important to create this frame for this game because, although the ‘point’ is the act of filling out dialog boxes, the point can only register if the game establishes the hypothetical context in which that act is taking place. Namely, the near-future in which most or all computer work is automated and humans have nothing to do with themselves and some of us pine for that feeling of ‘getting work done on the computer’ and require a game/computer program to allow us to simulate that and chase that feeling. As such, the game now needs enough extra stuff to bring across the idea that It is as if you were doing work is that program/game.

I’ve discussed possible extra UI elements with Rilla and with my colleague Jonathan Lessard and collected some nice ideas concerning having some more active background (including the idea of a desktop picture) and the idea of interactions that take place outside the basic ‘workflow’ (ha ha) of the game. Importantly and appropriately, the game needs to set up this near-future idea via interface elements specifically - like my earlier game MANIFEST it needs to be the program that would exist in this near future, rather than trying to portray that near future in a more traditional narrative way.

Current thoughts for how to establish the narrative frame via interface-stuff are:

  • Login screen to enter username and password. Implicates the player as a ‘real user’ right away, allows some text that could communicate the basics of what the program is, perhaps through title and slogan, say.
  • Random popup images of people happily working. I like the idea the system can bring up inspiring images of work so that you can feel more part of a community of happy and effective human workers. Thinking of using explicitly watermarked stock images for this.
  • A cheesy desktop background. Rather than the solid grey I have right now, which is too blatantly dystopian, it makes sense to have a kind of illusion of the customised workspace with a ‘personal’ image of something like a cat. (Could make this customisable, but suspect it may be better not to allow that control.)
  • Computer-generated music. Ideally I’d like some kind of chipper/energetic music playing the whole time, ala musak. It should emphasise the kind of dissonance of the task.
  • Informational dialogs. Along with the task-oriented dialogs, I’m planning to have excessive other popups that keep you up to date with your performance, areas of improvement, promotions, warnings, etc. This will add to visual confusion, which I think will feel good/weird, but is also an opportunity to continue convey the overall idea.
  • Break time. Jonathan had the genius idea of including mandatory “breaks” in the work where you have to have some leisure time. You could just listen to the music, look at the desktop and, as Jonathan pointed out, perhaps even play a game. Amazing.

So that’s where things stand with the game for the moment. A fair bit of work left to do, but generally it’s known work rather than the horrors of unknown work where you know something’s wrong but not what to do about it.

14 June 2017
← next words previous words →