These “Interlude” posts are an opportunity to talk about things around the project that didn’t go into the final paper. It’s also good to help me reflect on the whole project. This post is looking at why I wanted to study games in the first place and why this project in particular appealed to me.

One of the things that drew me to the HCI course at York was the presence of digital game topics in their list of previous years’ projects; however I didn’t go with the intention of doing a games project. My first idea was to do something around how to moderate social media content; or on how software teams actually think about accessibility in the workplace.

One idea I did have though was something around sadness as a motivator to play certain titles. At the time, I was playing Danganronpa V3. I love this series, but it’s pretty much the definition of “problematic fave” so I’m never fully comfortable recommending that people play it. The series is about a group of high school kids trapped in an environment where the only escape is to murder a classmate and get away with it via a class trial. It’s a visual novel mixed with Phoenix Wright turned up to 11 and sprinkled with a little Persona. I was playing it on the train to uni one morning (for people who have played it, I was playing the end of the Chapter 4 trial), and I started crying at what was happening. It’s a sad game. The theme of the games are hope vs despair and when it turned the despair up it’s horrible and wonderful. This got me thinking about games that make me cry. I don’t watch sad films and yet a lot of my favourite moments in gaming are the ones that broke my heart. I’ll never forget fighting the “final boss” in Ico and barely be able to see through tears, or how The Beginner’s Guide pulled my heart from my chest and stamped on it.

Anyway, it turns out York has a system around allocating projects that I wasn’t expecting. Each supervisor puts up a list of projects they want to supervise and you rank at least three that you are interested in. Students can self-define a project but this is heavily discouraged and we weren’t really given details with enough time to do anything. Personally I don’t like this system, it feels very restrictive and almost feels like we’re there to boost the academic record of the supervisor rather than the other way around.

I picked this topic; uncomfortable experiences in digital games. My original idea was to look at how games can change attitudes towards mental health but I was unsure as to the practicalities and it would have been an ethical nightmare. Looking back, I’m surprised how much this project changed over time and how much I ended up shaping it rather than being told what to do as I had feared might happen.

I think digital games are important. I also think there is a responsibility on game developers as a whole to advance the medium; and explorations of complex emotions are one way of achieving that. I think there are a lot of people like me out there who have had game experiences that have changed them and that is fascinating.

The main downside of this project (or doing any game project) is there’s not really a non-academic job that it’s useful for. Games user research is a thing and is something I’d like to do in the future, but I don’t think I’ll ever just get paid for talking to people about videogames. I’ve also had little success pushing it as a conference talk; it’s too game-based for UX events and too academic for game dev events.

I hope you enjoy reading about it. I enjoyed doing it. Coming up next week is research questions and an overview of the first study I did.