Serious Game

Mental health in recent years has been something that video game developers have started to take a lot more seriously. The serious game idea that I am going to present is an RPG that focuses on the struggles of mental health. The game will take place in a modern-styled London quite like the locations in Devil May Cry 5 (CAPCOM, 2019). The gameplay will be that of a modern-styled JRPG (very similar to that of Persona 5), with a turn-based system. The story will focus on a group of teenagers that try to overcome their difficulties and issues with mental health, relationships and society. My target-audience will be teenagers that are of a similar age to the group of teenagers in my serious game, making the age rating of my game PEGI-16. Like other JRPGs that have had success with this type of design choice, I want to focus on serious topics with my game pitch whilst also creating an immersive and fun experience for young teenagers. “A serious game is a game that allows people to learn, the outcome can be to give a social message, a marketing message or even a learning message.” (Kapp K. 2019).

Figure 1: An image showcasing a phone-booth in Devil May Cry 5 (CAPCOM, 2019) in a fictional area that is heavily inspired by London.

“Many serious games offer an experience-based learning environment focused on exploration, discovery or problem solving that is devoid of instructional guidance.” (Westera W. 2019) As I mentioned, the world of my serious game will take place in a modern-styled London similar to that of Devil May Cry 5 (CAPCOM) allowing the player to take control of the playable characters to then explore the different areas available to them. However, the reason I am implementing a non-fictional city is to allow the player to experience what it is like in a real, familiar setting, for people who suffer from mental health issues. I want to showcase the different ways in which people with mental health are treated, whether that be in a positive and constructive way or in a negative-sense. I also want to give the player the option to explore these issues if they see fit; a side quest to say the least. The player will be given the option to intervene with some of the behaviour they see from citizens around the city allowing them to educate themselves as they discover new characters with unique conditions.

Figure 2: An image of a social link event from Persona 3 (Atlus, 2006). The social link mechanic gives the player the ability to create friendships and relationships with other characters that strengthen your in-game characters.

One of the main mechanics that I will be implementing is very similar to the “social link” mechanic from the Persona series. This will range from forming bonds with unplayable characters (NPCs) to even playable characters. In the Persona games the social link events with other characters tend to be quite light-hearted and usually start to divulge into quite controversial social and personal topics later into the relationships of the character that the player is taking control of. My mechanic whilst sharing quite a few similarities to the social link system will focus more on the controversial topics of society and mental health which people sometimes naturally overlook. “We should be stretching the imaginations of our players and ourselves. Let’s invent a world where the player gets to go through every emotional journey available. That is art. Offering that to people is art.” (Barker C. 2007). This mechanic will be called “serious time” where the topics that are covered are explored in much more detail compared to a series like Persona which tends to only dabble in controversial topics towards the end of a relationship’s story.

Figure 3: An image from Persona 5 (Atlus, 2017) of the characters walking through Tokyo (Japan) during a social link event. During social link events the characters may sometimes encounter another character from the game’s world which in turn gives the player a unique experience where all the characters interact with each other.

“Emotions are fundamental for players to deeply engage with games. Players’ responses in a game are affected by their emotional states. If, in turn, these states could be used to affect the way the game responds the player-game, interaction could be augmented and enriched by magnitudes. (Yannakakis G.N. 2016). This quote by Yannakakis suggests that the player experience can be heightened by an incredible amount to become much more enjoyable if a serious game’s choice-making is altered by the player’s emotional state. It is for this reason that I will give the player the ability to choose what to say in the “serious time” events which will alter what happens throughout the relationship between the player’s character and the NPC/party member. This may result in a positive or negative outcome which will have an impact on the character’s mood and mental state. The character’s status can be recovered by resting at a hotel or at the character’s house.

Figures 4 and 5: Two images from The World Ends with You (Square Enix, 2008) (also known as TWEWY) showcasing the main character Neku Sakuraba not wanting to talk about his feelings to others in society on the left image. On the right image we can literally see him secluding himself from society as he does not want to be brought down by society itself as well as by its people.

The characters in my serious game will undergo a similar state of negativity to that of Neku, though it will be through a series of mental health conditions for each character throughout the story of the game. “A good game, like a good movie, has a gripping storyline. When creating a serious game, the game’s story can be used to reinforce the company’s values and add an additional level of learning.” (Growth Engineering, 2016). Each character will undergo many difficult events that are heavily influenced by their mental health conditions but will come to grow throughout the story of the game by realising that they do not have to be defined by their mental health. In hope of this, I feel it will educate players in the sense that they will come to realise that a person does not need to be defined by their mental health issues and can come to enjoy and live their life even with these existing struggles. Through overcoming and accepting this during the story each character will come to gain a new unique ability respectively that will assist them throughout the turn-based combat that enhances the gameplay experience for the player.

References:

Barker C. (2007) Games vs Art: Ebert vs Barker

Figure 1: Devil May Cry 5 Image (2019) Available at: https://timber-owls.com/2019/03/20/the-importance-of-phones-in-devil-may-cry-5/ (Accessed: Feb 10th 2021)

Figure 2: Persona 3 FES Image (2013) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_9QUXaAxAk (Accessed: Feb 15th 2021)

Figure 3: Persona 5 Image (2015) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPqSkzNNPIg (Accessed: Feb 15th 2021)

Figures 4 and 5: The World Ends with You Images (2018) Available at: https://www.polygon.com/reviews/2018/10/10/17957890/the-world-ends-with-you-final-remix-nintendo-switch-review (Accessed: Feb 22nd 2021)

Growth Engineering (March 1st 2016) What are Serious Games? Available at: https://www.growthengineering.co.uk/what-are-serious-games/ (Accessed: 10th Feb 2021)

Kapp K. Growth Engineering (2019) — What are Serious Games? (Aug 19th 2019) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmG3fdptY_k (Accessed: Feb 15th 2021)

Yannakakis G.N. (2016) Emotions in Games Springer