A love letter to Jack Thompson.

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

April ‘09
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.

IMPORTANT: Because I expect many of these posts will be difficult and/or disturbing for portions of the audience to read, I ask that you consider using a high level of language to describe the contents of your design. I also ask that you both rate your posts and include rating descriptors as laid out by the ESRB (http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp).

This month’s round table is another topic that I’ve been waiting for and been preparing for the last few years. As a designer I’ve had to scrap numerous ideas for various reasons. Some just couldn’t be taken any further, others were just plain bad. However, there was a segment of ideas I had to throw out or keep in my mind because quite frankly, only I would be able to really understand them. These ideas are so disturbing that I doubt any publisher would even touch them and while some of them could still be made with some tweaking, in their current form there is no way in hell they will see the light of day. As per Corvus’ request this post will be rated M for intense violence.

Serial Killer Simulator:I wanted to use “murder simulator” but I think Jack Thompson would get mad at me for stealing his phrase. My first title is one man’s path from ordinary guy to a serial killer. The game begins with the main character standing over his boss with a gun aimed at his head and is about to pull the trigger, from there the game flashes back one year as the player interacts and watches the events that have caused the downward spiral.

The major events of the past year act as a tutorial/prologue to the game. The story of this character is that he lives modestly, he’s a good citizen, has a girlfriend and goes to work 5 days a week. The first two scenes show his life from a positive point of view while teaching the player basic movement and item usage. The next few scenes show things from a different light, he’s incredibly introverted and closed off and that girlfriend of his basically controls him. One of the later scenes has the player act as “errand boy” to her for several tasks. One of the scenes introduces the player to finding out about the world through the daily newspaper, watching TV and while walking outside. During this scene the character will comment on how dull he has lived his life compared to the world around him. One other theme that is prevalent in all the scenes is the character getting a headache before the end of each scene. The second to last prologue scene is the final straw for this character.

Both the player and the character have noticed that he has been getting increasingly worse headaches over the past year and the player finally decides to go to a doctor. This event takes place when he goes to the doctor to view the results of previous tests. There he discovers that he has a terminal disease (not really knowledgeable on diseases so insert your own) and that at this rate he only has about a month to live. The doctor hands him some sample pills and tells him that they can slow down the disease but it’s not a fix. He also says that unfortunately the insurance of the company he works at doesn’t cover this and that there is nothing more he can do. What follows is the character walking home in a trance while the world around him seeps into monotone to show that he has completely withdrawn from life. When he gets back home he basically “loses it” and tears the apartment apart in rage. The final prologue scene is just a few minutes before the present and teaches the player about using stealth to sneak around as he heads back into his job at night to steal money. He meets his boss and after a heated argument the character pulls out a gun and we come back to the present. After the player has witnessed all the events in the past year it’s up to them to decide where to go from here. The two choices are both walking away and dying a quick death (ending the game) or pulling the trigger and starting a new life, if the player decides to pull the trigger then the boss will die and the game will begin.

From there the character walks home this time the world is bright and the character comments about the same things when he walked home after the doctor but this time from a different view. When he gets home he finds his irate girlfriend yelling at him about the apartment and while she’s screaming at him two choices come up on the screen, either kill her or walk away. However while these moral choices are for the player, the character has made up his mind and kills her as the player has already set this character down the path of a killer. There will be no more moral choices given to the player your only option to stop this character from killing is to either turn off the game or get him killed.

Now the game officially starts as the character comes to a conclusion that he only feels alive when he’s taking a life and with a limited time left he decides to go out enjoying life. Every NPC in the game is worth “points” to the character with harder to reach targets worth more. At certain point intervals events will happen in the city such as the police recognizing you as a threat and putting an APB out. The player can order equipment from the internet or at stores in the city and they range from guns to a police radio. The player has free reign to pick any targets to kill and the game at this point is about doing as much damage before the character dies. The only factors that the player has to keep track of are how much money he has and how much of the drug is currently in his system.

During a cut scene after the game starts, the character returns to the doctor with money and tells him that he wants to live as long as possible. The doctor gives him a device that measures the amount in milligrams of the drug the player currently has in his system. If the number drops below a certain threshold you’ll only have one hour to get more or the character will die. Starting out the player can buy the drug in pill form and consume it at any time. As time goes on the character’s system will start to become resistance to the drug requiring more amounts to achieve the same affect. Eventually the player will have to switch to a stronger and more expensive form to get his fix. Also the more of the drug the player consumes at once, his tolerance to pain increases exponentially allowing him to take more damage while he’s under this affect. However this will increase the rate his body becomes acclimated to the drug. Eventually the cost of just one dose to keep the player going will go into the thousands. The character can pick up money from anyone he kills which will help him stay alive longer and pick up better gear. With all that said here is why I doubt this game idea will ever be made.

This game shows that fear that people like Jack Thompson and various parental groups have been perpetuating about this industry for some time, that games have turned us all into introverted border lining sociopaths waiting for that trigger to set us off. In this game all the violent acts that are shown and committed are due to the player’s choice not the designer. There are no “enemies” pushing the player to kill, the player is the linchpin that determines the path the character is going to walk. The overall premise of this game is that if pushed to the extremes like the character and had to deal with his life, what would you do in that circumstance and could you see your actions through to the end?


  • Interesting… your game idea actually reminded me of a real game that was a huge controversy on the Amiga in 1992, Dreamweb ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamweb )

    You played someone who starts out as an ordinary guy, but who becomes a serial killer, and you’re never sure if he really is being pressured by supernatural forces, or if he’s just going totally nuts. The game was preceded by a fictional diary of his, called “Diary of a (Mad?) man” … oh, awesome, it’s here! http://www.dl4002.co.uk/dw/diary/
    I remember it blowing my 11 year old mind, heh.