Taking Games Seriously, Making Game Seriously: This month’s Round Table challenges you to design a game that deals with a social issue that personally troubles you. The recent months have seen controversy sweep through the video game industry. Whether people are objecting to the use of imagery widely considered to evoke racial stereotypes, or to the gameplay based on violent sexual crimes, or to the fact that anyone would complain about either topic–the discussion has been fierce. This month, contributors to the Round Table are invited to design a game that focuses on racism, rape, domestic violence, cruelty to animals, genocide, or any other serious, and potentially hot-button, topic.
The Ace Attorney series works on a few premises: you are in a courtroom dissecting testimonies, searching for inconsistencies and pointing out disparities through evidence or questioning; between court days you are investigating the case, picking up clues, and questioning various people; you, as the defending attorney (so far) must prove your client not guilty.
In the first game, Maya, your partner, says the following, “Sometimes I feel like it’s us on trial instead of our clients.” This is very true in a meta-gaming sense, it is your success or failure that determines the outcome. The defendant is always innocent, you just have to prove it. Them being convicted is your failure, not their guilt.
Given the emphasis of this system, I figured I would like to build a game off such a system. Victims of sexual abuse often don’t report their abuse, male and female. If one can get past the social stigma and the possible problems with reporting it to law enforcement agencies, one has the opportunity to deal with it in the court system. Supposedly, justice is blind, wherein lies some of the problem, which is why a game system such as this works rather well.
Considering the topics of sexual abuse and discussing the details of such, this is an AO game, which means it would likely never ever be seen outside of a Flash game (which would be fine for this premise). Which is not to say that this would be overtly gruesome; the reason I like basing the idea of this game off the same model as the Ace Attorney series because it has a lot of humor in it. The same would be applied here through characterization and dialogue. The title would be Raining Justice, an allusion to RAINN.
As the defending attorney, your client would be the person being accused of the sexual abuse, be it rape or molestation. What this means is that you would spend the game deconstructing the charges at hand. When in court, this means dealing with an already stressed and distraught witness, whom you would treat as every other witness before such (more on this later).
Between cases in the original series, there is little paint thrown over the fact that one is essentially breaking, entering, and snooping in places one is not wanted and which may be illegal. The same would apply here, though the privacy violated is that of the supposed victim.
I say supposed victim because the game would follow the same trajectory, failure is your client being found guilty–giving the impression that you can prove your client not guilty (not to be confused with innocent) due to some glitch in the system, and this is your goal, whatever the cost.
The difficulty is presenting this in a way that does not make a player immediately switch off. Using the grossly broad and over-the-top characterizations as Ace Attorney would help here. My idea would be to have the only human representations be both the defending attorney, whom you are controlling, and continually longer glimpses from the victim. To start, the victim would be so quiet it would be difficult to get much of a reaction at all.
The end goal would then be that of the win: the not guilty verdict. The steps to get there would include invading the privacy of the victim, ridiculing him or her in court, and most likely finding a small technicality.
As it stands, the current court system does not know how to effectively handle victims of sexual abuse, often painting them with a broad stroke as fully complicit in the abuse. The game would follow in this role, making you seek to find the minutest detail to warp out of context–the absurdity of these technicalities would highlight just how vicious the court system is to victims of sexual abuse–a topic we don’t like discussing at the best of times, and without some yelling going on somewhere.
While the trial would proceed, the already reticent victim would be given more and more humanization, starting to display believable emotional depth in contrast with the bombast of everyone else in the circus that the courtroom holds. The aim of the game is to remind the player that victims are human beings, not a statistic. Would the player continue playing the game in seeking to disprove the facts?
That one would be more difficult to gauge, but would be telling in how we deal with the issue currently. While I debated making this more abstract as other entries have done, I am not sure I could see myself divorcing the human aspect from this particular issue. There would of course be other trials that also show the problems of how we define rape and how it gets used in court systems (issues involving alcohol), but this is the one on which I wished to focus.
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