Little Things was the result of about two-and-a-half months of on-and-off work. The first stage entailed a fair amount of research and organization around what elements of dating violence I thought could be expressed well in digital game form. I found that previous contest winners tended to take a fairly direct experiential approach to presenting their content, so I used that as a guideline in how to approach the subject. <I’d like to note here, though, that Power and Control, the 3rd place winner from 2011, doesn’t exactly fit this mold, though is easily my favourite in terms of how it uses game mechanics (rather than simply textual content) to communicate aspects of dating violence. Well worth checking out.>
In considering many aspects of the topic, I particularly liked the idea of highlighting how innocuous certain dating violence behaviours can seem, and how as a result they might be going on unnoticed all around you. Setting the game as a series of online conversations allowed me to weave stories that the player could connect with and engage in to whatever extent they chose, but in doing so would gradually come to recognize some of the signs of dating violence through observation.
I initially wanted to incorporate more aspects of social media into the game: picture sharing, event invitations, “likes”, etc., but ended up reducing player interaction to limited dialogue choices. This streamlined play, but reduced the amount of meaningful input the player could have on the proceedings of the game. It was a necessary concession to stay on target for the submission deadline, but it would have been interesting to go beyond simple dialogue trees and into the realm of hidden variables and dynamically-triggered responses. Alas! Another project, certainly.
The element I’m most choked up about not being able to include is allowing the player to choose their character. If they’d been able to select an avatar, preferred gender pronoun, and which other character they’d be interested in dating, I think the game would have carried a much stronger universal message, that of the potential for dating violence to emerge in all sorts of relationships. Without this, the story is one of a single character that the player may or may not have any particular investment in or resonance with. It’s something that will bother me for a while, surely, but again: there’s always another project.
At the end of the day, though, I’m still pretty happy to have created something that explores serious subject matter through my chosen medium. It’s not the world-changing masterwork I hoped it might have become, but it’s absolutely valuable practice for my next attempt. Even just engaging with a more educational objective changed the way I approached the game: I was suddenly accountable to a body of information, responsible for representing it accurately, thoroughly, and in an accessible way. I feel that, at the very least, I accomplished this, even if the mechanics of interaction could have been further developed.
So! Forward. Another educational game, maybe? Or further exploration of interaction space? I suspect Collegia might be just the chance to refine these skills…