DigitalDiary2014 is a game demo submitted as my final project for my MA in Digital and Interactive Storytelling. It is a narrative-driven casual game that explores issues of identity, internet community-building, and cultural exchange.
Operating in the space of "games for change" or advocacy, DigitalDiary2014 was designed to prompt reflection on how we perceive the lives and wellbeing of others through their social media posts. It is designed primarily to prompt reflection among young adults who were active on content-driven social platforms like Tumblr in the mid-2010s. Through nostalgic cultural references and branching narratives determined by the players’ curiosity and engagement, the game asks players to reflect on the way they perceive their friends’ lives and wellbeing online.
In the first phase of the game, players will explore the blogs of three characters, learning about their interests and cultural backgrounds. Once they are finished, they will choose one character that they’d like to interact with, proceeding into an instant messaging conversation. The conversations are designed to challenge players’ assumptions based on the static content they encountered previously.
The game is designed in hopes that players come away with three key understandings:
Surface-level online depictions of people’s lives are often very distorted. When cultural norms on many sites encourage people to only discuss negative things in very specific ways, it’s easy for it to seem like someone is doing well when they are not.
Communication norms are heavily culturally-specific. A perfectly average statement can come off as insensitive, over-dramatic, or confusing to someone in a different part of the world, especially if one or both parties aren’t speaking their native language.
There are serious pros and cons to high levels of internet-community engagement. Many online communities allow youth with poor social support in their physical environments to meet people who share the same niche interests and past experiences as they do. These communities can become lifelines for this reason, however, many social networks are designed in a way that encourages addiction and attention-seeking behaviour that can be harmful.
ILLUSTRATION AND VISUALS
The content in the blog demo takes inspiration from trends in Tumblr blog design from this era along with fan-art culture. All graphics and images for the game are illustrated in a digital, cell-shaded style influenced by comics and sequential art. These images mimic the style of a popular style of fan-art along with the comics that have launched some of the world’s largest fandoms.
At moments, the blog references cultural moments from the era such as this animated illustration inspired by this iconic quote from the Captain America: Civil War press tour in 2016.
The chat demo is designed to follow the standard visual conventions of instant messaging apps while complying with the restrictions of the script that governs the interactivity.
While the full game would feature three characters, the demo focuses on one, Ioana. The blog demo features seven posts that reveal some of her interests and real-life struggles, whereas the chat demo focuses on a discussion about her college plans falling through at the last minute. This premise was chosen because it reflects a common problem faced by young adults across cultures, and it can develop into deep conversations about identity and loss or stay relatively surface-level depending on the player's choices.
Players' performance is measured in two variables: trust and fail. They earn trust for choosing person-centred responses in line with research on peer support in computer-mediated communication, while fails occur when a player chooses a dialog option that is offensive. Players who reach trust > 3 before the key breakpoint will receive a good ending and players who have any fails will receive a bad ending. Those who do not reach trust > 3 but also have no fails receive a neutral ending.
CODING AND PUBLISHING
The blog demo is published on Tumblr with a customised CSS theme. Posts were published directly to Ioana's blog or through dummy blogs, allowing them to appear as something she reblogged rather than posting herself.
The chat demo was scripted in Ink, a purpose-built language for interactive fiction. The trust and fail variables were incremented in response to player decisions.
Narrative mind map created in Scapple
Illustrations drawn in Adobe Fresco
Blog designed and published on Tumblr
Chat scripted in Ink and published by Inky
Default chat HTML and CSS customised in Brackets
Chat hosted on GitHub Pages