Sunday, November 04, 2007

Indie Gaming - RePlay: Finding Zoe, serious gaming for serious change.

Back in August I interviewed Susana Ruiz for gamasutra, announcing her latest project RePlay: Finding Zoe, a flash-based educational game aimed at children 8 to 14, and designed to bring awareness to gender stereotyping and sexism, promoting healthy, equal relationships. The game centers on a group of kids searching for their friend Zoe who is believed to be in an abusive relationship. Players must make their way to different locations in town to find clues on her whereabouts encountering other kids who present gossip and rumors. ou are faced with numerous choices in response to these rumors, and depending on what you say, you'll be able to gather more friends to come along with you in your quest. The Darfur is Dying designer has teamed up with the Ontario Canada based, Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) to produce the game.

RePlay has recently been selected as a finalist in the Ashoka Changemakers' global contest Why Games Matter: A Prescription for Improving Health and Health Care.

With some nice art direction, pleasant music, and pretty straight forward gameplay, the creators intentions of providing a forum of discussion to players, works. There are some issues with RePlay: Finding Zoe 1.2, such as slow moments in the gameplay flow while responding to gossip by choosing the 'falling words', as well as building a friend pyramid. Overall though, it works to convey the developers intentions.

Because making choices is a large part of RePlay: Finding Zoe, lots of thought when into the dialogue. Here is Susana's thoughts on providing convincing responses.

We were very conscientious of giving the player the option to not do the "right" thing. We were inspired by GTA and Bully in this respect, except of course, that in these games you have the option to not do the "wrong" thing (hope this makes sense ).

RePlay is a casual game with a non-profit budget, so clearly we did not create multiple missions throughout a vast world, but you actually don't have to find your friend Zoe and try to help her - you can just explore the game space and even antagonize other characters.

The multiple-choice gameplay was a tough nut to crack. Even with a target audience of 8-14 year olds, we quickly understood that deciphering the "right" thing to do or say in the context of a game is not much of a an analytic challenge. Additionally, because more often than not we instinctively react judgmentally and unproductively while engaged in stressful confrontations, the game is designed such that it's actually easier to do the "wrong" thing. In the context of gameplay, it is more challenging to say the "right" thing, and it is also worth your while. Conflict resolution requires effective communication and so in the midst of sexist and potentially intimidating confrontations, we emphasize the use of words to resolve and surmount. In this regard we were inspired by word games such as puzzles, Scrabble and in particular, magnetic poetry.

And to note - we're certainly big fans of groundbreaking projects such as Facade (Carnegie Mellon), which implements natural language processing and advanced AI in order to create a robust interactive drama. So yes... breaking through this inherent multiple-choice simplicity was a hard one for us... a real challenge to do it in a simple and elegant way.

Play RePlay: Finding Zoe

Check out RePlay: Finding Zoe on Remember to register and vote!

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