For this hack, we were working with the idea of critical play, and what it means to “play critically”. According to Flanagan in her Critical Play Radical Game Design, describes critical play to be, “… built on the premise that, as with other media, games carry beliefs within their representation systems and mechanics. Artists using games as a medium of expression, then, manipulate elements common to games—representation systems and styles, rules of progress, codes of conduct, context of reception, winning and losing paradigms, ways of interacting in a game”.
With this idea of critical play in mind, Tien and I hacked an original children’s game, Guess Who, into a game based off critical play. The game Guess Who is played by two players, who pick a random card out of a deck of cards. Each card in this deck has a face on the opposite side, and that face is who the other player is trying to guess. Each player has a board with 10+ faces on it, one of which will be the card you must guess. Each player has to guess who the other players card that they picked up is. However, they can only accomplish this by asking yes or no questions about the character card they pick up, for example, is he male, does he have black hair…etc. The game ends when one player has selected the card on their board that matches the card the card they are guessing about( the card the other player picked out of the deck).
Now, just like in the description of critical play, we changed the game so that it no longer resonated with children, but instead took a more controversial stance, and made the players themselves, reflect upon what they knew about the Guess Who player cards. We changed the face cards from being friendly looking people and random names, to a more harsh reality. We change the face cards to notoriously evil people throughout time, including people like Hitler, Stalin, Trump, Kim Jong-un and more.
Based off these face cards we assumed that most people would ask some pretty unpleasant yes or no questions. Relating to what these “bad” people are known for and what most people associate them with. With this assumption in mind, we wanted to push the boundaries even more, perhaps challenge peoples original opinion of these characters. So on the original deck of cards you choose, we added some interesting facts/opinions that made each of these “bad ” people, seem good. Let’s take Hitler for example. His fact/opinion was that he created a thriving economy with no unemployment. He also passed laws that emphasized respect for women, children and families. By putting these good facts about these people, we hoped to challenge the players mentally, and cause cognitive friction between their previous exposure of these people, and the facts that are presented to them throughout the game.
With this hack, we introduced a variety of different barriers, including cognitive friction, reskinning and ethical game play.
They way we incorporated cognitive friction, as stated above, was through defying the norm or what people though, and requiring them to think in different ways. Miguel Sicart defines cognitive friction to be , “.. the resistance encountered by a human intellect when it engages with a complex system of rules that change as the problem changes”. He then goes on to state what designs should include to decrease cognitive friction. One item on this list that we really challenged was ,” Make things visible, including the conceptual model of the system, the alternative actions, and the results of actions.”(94) By incorporating the fact and opinion statements into the cards, I believe we opposed this restriction quite a bit. The players don’t know the consequence of winning, and learning more about the “good” that each so called bad person has done in their lives. They are shocked to realize that these bad people, have good qualities that have helped people despite how bad they are.
To demonstrate the critical play discussed in Flanagan’s Critical Play: Radical Game Design we both reskinned the game Guess Who. The way we reskinned it was, obviously, putting world renown criminals as faces, instead of friendly and happy faces who are more or less generic people with similar features. However, we also reskinned the board as well. Normally Guess Who is played on a flip up board, and you flip down faces that you have ruled out, but reskinned it so you had to physically take out the piece of paper in the wood and put in face down. We did this to set a sort of accomplishment factor into the game. We noticed when we ran a test run that we like it better this way because we got some sense of accomplishment putting these bad people away, and “eliminating” them. Even if it’s in a game, we noticed we have an innate depreciation towards these bad people and taking their card out and putting it face down was a satisfying feeling.
Not only did we cause critical play by reskinning and including cognitive friction, but we also included ethical gameplay. Sicart defines ethical gameplay to be, “the experience of a game by players who make choices that are based on morality considerations that are derived from their understanding of the game system.”(90) This aspect of the hack was more or less introduced by the nature of the game itself. By only being allowed to ask yes or no questions, we must judge and discriminate against people based of their appearance. However, we did invite more open ended yes or no questions based of the bad people we selected. Each player has the choice to judge the faces based off their physical appearance, or judge them based off what they know of each individual faces. These choices tested an individual’s moral codes and personal backgrounds. For example, if someone doesn’t like Trump, they may tail the yes or no question to be much more mean or hostile. In this way, we also incorporated ethical gameplay into our hack.
- Flanagan, Mary.Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2009.
- Sicart, Miguel.Beyond Choices: The Design of Ethical Gameplay. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2013.