My game Confessional is going to appear in an exhibition at Babycastles, a space in New York billed as “a collective … dedicated to building platforms for diversity in video games culture at every level”. It’s a really cool place and I wish I had the money to fly over to NY and check it out. I’m pleasantly surprised by the game’s inclusion. I assumed Confessional would be a game people glossed over and forgot about.
It’s a weird game, after all. You sit in front of a virtual computer that has a short writing prompt. From there, you just type.
People either love the game, or hate it. The ones who love it, generally, let themselves type things and forget they’re in a game. The ones who hate it want action. Most games engage with you expecting a layer of separation between game and reality. It’s a fiction you step into that is separate from the rest of your life. I wanted to break that barrier. The rest of this blog post outlines how I planned the game to work in an ideal situation. You might want to play the game before reading any further.
I give you a lot of time to write, in the hopes you’ll break into real feelings. Maybe you’ll start typing silly things, or surface-level thoughts, waiting for the “game” to happen. After a couple more minutes, if you keep writing, you’ll forget you’re in a game and type your actual raw feelings onto the virtual screen.
Then, there’s a knock at the door. You have your guts spilled onto a virtual screen and now the game has come rushing back to greet you. Barrier between game and reality cracked. But if you have your guts on the screen, you might panic a little. This is where you reach a “gamey” contrivance: Press TAB to bring up the privacy screen, which is a fake DOS command line. Once you do that, the door opens, and your mom pokes in to see what you’re up to. You see her shadow, and your shadow. You appear much smaller. This is child you. But the writing prompt talks about the past, and if you typed your guts out, you wrote about your past. Two different time periods overlap. This first time, you’re safe. Symbolic virtual mom goes away. Secrets protected.
Then you can keep typing. This time you’re more likely to expect an interruption again, but you know how to handle it. You keep typing. Mom knocks again. She pops in a second time and goes away. You might feel pretty confident about your secret-keeping skills. Maybe you’ve got a reflex for the TAB key now. And you can keep typing again.
Then she shows up a third time, unannounced. No knocking. You have a brief moment to press TAB, or you leave your guts visible on the screen. This is where the game really enters your world. You’ve spilled out whatever secrets you’ve kept locked up, and symbolic virtual mom sees it. She says she forgives you. She picks you up and holds you.
That’s the ideal experience. A lot of players got there, and they thanked me for it. Some were brought to tears. Some felt catharsis even though they just typed out the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody. Other players wondered where the hell the game was supposed to be. And that’s cool, too. The confessional booth isn’t for everybody, and it doesn’t work the same for everybody. But sometimes, you need to make whatever is locked up inside you real. I think it’s pretty cool you can do that with a game.
You can also read this slightly more pretentious post I wrote about the game shortly after making it.