Author as Audience Personal Narratives in Game Design Caelyn Sandel, 2014.

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Author asAudiencePersonal Narratives in Game DesignCaelyn Sandel, 2014Whats in a Game?Ill only talk about this briefly. I promise.

Its a hot-button topic in video gaming discourse:Games vs. Not-Games

A game is apparently something that:Has concrete goalsHas success and failure conditionsIs fun to playIs personally liked by the person arguing about it(?)Whats in a Game?Rather than participating in the debate, Id like to examine a frequently-asked and rarely-answered question:Why Do We Care?

When a gamer accuses a game of not being a game, what they usually seem to be saying isThis wasnt made for me and I feel betrayed.At the heart of the What is a game argument is a sense of entitlement:the belief that games should be written for gamers.

If I am not the audience for a video game, then it is not a video game.Stop talking about it.DIARY GAMESare a genre of video game designed primarily toexpress the authors thoughts or experiences.

The author of a diary game* is often part of the games target audience, and may be the target audience in its entirety.

For many diary game authors, there is value not only in releasing the work, but in creating it.* NOTE: Not all personal game authors would be comfortable with this term. I use it here mostly out of convenience and to highlight the personal nature of the games under discussion.

David S. Gallant created the viral diary gameI Get This Call Every Day for the purpose of expressing my frustrations with a daily job thats making me feel less like a human being every day."I asked for some outside advice. A lot of it was about making it more of a game, but the more I made it a game, the less it was coming back to the whole point of it all.I Get This Call Every Day has a message. It's trying to tell you something. Adding more callers or allowing you to jump into different points of the conversation kind of takes away from that.-David S. GallantMaking Diary Games more gamelike can be detrimental to the purpose of the games existence:Many Diary Games are by QUILTBAG or MOGII people.The first one I played and still one of my favorites:

by Anna Anthropy

is a game about being trans and going on Hormone Replacement Therapy

via tiny WarioWare style minigames.

Some of the gameshave a clear goal and gameplay,

though winning or losing do not matter in terms of story progression.Some of the gamesseem to have a clear goal

but are literally impossible to win.

I interviewed with NPR last week and the host was really interested in knowing why I chose to tell this story as a videogame over any other form. The answer is that you get a tremendous level of empathy out of actually forcing the player to participate in the frustration that I had to deal with, in forcing her to act out an unwinnable scenario. It was absolutely the right stage for such a personal story.- Anna Anthropy

Forced Helplessness.Gamers who see video games as power fantasy hate being forced to do things.What, you want to leave me death threats? Go for it! Games are about feeling powerful, and about you getting your way!-Leigh Alexander, Review of GTA V*Diary Games demand that a player relinquish their agency in order to experience empathy with the primary audience:The Author.Twine node map for Connected Kit Episode 3 by Caelyn Sandel (me)Most story games seek to grant a sense of freedom, agency, and exploration.

Twine node map for Cis Gaze by Caelyn Sandel (still me)Many Diary Games do the opposite, instead using gaming conventions to give the player a feeling of participation while explicitly restricting their freedom.Not all personal experience games are linear, however, and not all are a direct personal story.

Zo Quinns Depression Quest features branching narratives and a fictional protagonist, but still communicates helplessness to the player by displaying inaccessible actions that the player character could access if only they were less depressed.Why?No one who writes a game for or about themselves does so for the exact same reasons as anyone else.Most such games exist to do one or more of these:Provide catharsis or relief for the authorTell the story of an experience or experiencesExternalize or clarify a complex mental stateCommiserate with others suffering the sameEducate the unfamiliarSome game authors may find the most value in writing the game.Some value the response they receive after releasing a game.Others may never release theirs at all.Gersande:borderline was for mebut it was also really important to show italso for meCaelyn: how so?Gersande: i think a lot of the problems i have with myself are because i don't validate myself or think i'm important. or even i just don't have any self compassion. so when people respond nicely to this kinda work, where a bit of my problems and brain are out in the openi think it helpsmake me realise that maybe i am worth compassionor value evenchatlog with Gersande La Flcheauthor of BORDERLINEpresented with permission

Play them.To best understand the value of personal narrative games,

Maddox PrattsAnhedoniaGaming PixiesWhats in a Name?

ncasesComing Out SimulatorMattie BricesMainichiShould I Make aDiary Game?Should I Make aDiary Game?YES.Should I Make aDiary Game?YES.It feels goodIt doesnt have to take very longYou dont have to be a programmerYou dont have to release your game to the publicIt doesnt have to be about something important enoughShould I Make aDiary Game?YES.It feels goodIt doesnt have to take very longYou dont have to be a programmerYou dont have to release your game to the publicIt doesnt have to be about something important enoughYou are amazing and deserve to be the protagonist of your own game.THIS IS FOR YOU.Thank you forlisteningand playingand writing.Games Referenced:Externalizing the Internal:

Anhedonia by Maddox Pratt

BORDERLINE by Gersande la Fleche

Cis Gaze by Caelyn Sandel

Depression Quest by Zoe Quinn

Relating Experiences or Incidents:

Dys4ia by Anna Anthropy

Mainichi by Mattie Brice

Coming Out Simulator by ncase

What's in a Name? by Gaming Pixie

I Get This Call Every Day by David S Gallant images belong to the authors of the games above and are used in this presentation for educational and informative purposes only.Some more linksDavid Gallant Interviews

Anna Anthropy interview

Review of GTA V*, by Leigh Alexander