[This is a repost of a video from GDC 2012. To access chapter selection, click the fullscreen button or check out the video on the GDC Vault website]
If you're reading this site, chances are you believe in the potential of video games – that they can evoke powerful emotions, and deeply affect the people who play them. Plenty of games have already proven that the medium is capable of dealing with complex issues, but are there subjects that video games just aren't equipped to handle?
Margaret Robertson of the experimental game studio Hide&Seek explored this very question at GDC 2012
, as she and her team ran into some real trouble when working on their interactive media experiment, Dreams of Your Life
The project was originally planned as a game that explored the death of Joyce Vincent, a woman who went unnoticed for three years after she perished in her London flat. Hide&Seek wanted to create a game that explored the complexities of death, and how someone like Vincent could slip through the cracks and become forgotten by society.
The only problem was that making a game that captured those themes proved too great a feat. "We really tried, but we couldn't find a game that fit within the things that [the team] talked about," Robertson said.
In the end, the team created an interactive online story
that satisfied their goals, but the fact that a game never came together really concerned Robertson. She admits the fault could lie with the team itself, but what if there's a larger issue? What if games just aren't capable of dealing with certain complex themes?
"The scary thing is: Maybe this just doesn't work. The reason I love making games is that I see them transform people in this really incredible way... but it feels so much to me that the reason games manage to accomplish that has a lot to do with the fact that the constraints the games set up are temporary and arbitrary," she said.
"The minute you bolt those structures onto something [like death] that's real and enduring and ongoing, there is a tension."
For more from Robertson's thoughtful – and surprisingly positive – GDC presentation, simply click the Play button on the above video, courtesy of the GDC Vault
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