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Ossie Halvorson

Direction When Working With Controversial Themes

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Hello, all.  

So to start, I just want to put it out there that I'm not creating this game to be edgy or intentionally stir up controversy, it simply exists that this is a controversial matter.  I am making the game because it is actually something that matters to me, something I don't often see portrayed in any sort of realistic manner.  Furthermore, the general theme is not unique but the actual player interaction with the game is.  I can't find anything really even similar, so while I'm sure this seems conceited or ridiculous, I want to share as little as possible about the actual planned mechanics.  The game I am currently working on revolves almost entirely around drugs and drug culture, and I'm at a bit of a crossroads in deciding my ultimate goals for this project because I'm fairly unsure what particular direction to take this game in from the environments to the writing.  

I grew up surrounded by addicts and junkies, so on one hand I want to create a very dark ambient game showcasing the damage that hard drug use does to people and their families, and the way that drug lords take advantage of those situations.  Again not to stir up trouble, but if anything to put other people who have no experience with that world in that perspective.  Unfortunately I see that either way, with the planned player interaction in this game, it is going to wind up being controversial and many people will dislike seeing first hand the awful world that these drugs are surrounded by.  Even further than that, I don't want it to seem that I'm encouraging the actions throughout this game.  In my mind the world displayed would be depraved, depressing, even downright disgusting at times.  But in the same light, so is Grand Theft Auto in many cases, yet many people still believe it's encouragement to live that kind of life.

On the other hand, one solution I had thought of to the previous worries was to take this in a polar opposite direction under the same theme.  Make a comedic drug game, with comedic environments, maybe even comedic elements to the player interaction with the world itself.  Now.. That feels like making light of the situation to me.  That makes me feel like I'm even more so encouraging it in the sense that I'm making it funny, I'm making players believe it's a goofy culture that is no where near as bad as it truly is in the real world.  I was imagining fake drug names representing real drugs, similar but funnier reactions from the people using these drugs, and even mostly comedic dialogue.  To be quite honest, I don't like that vision nearly as much, but if that's what I have to do to avoid reactions such as the game Hatred brought on, I will find a way..  But really to me the dark realism is part of what makes my vision complete, I want it to be a fairly true to life perspective; I don't however want to have players see the game itself as a negative thing so much as they're intended to see the world and culture as negative.  

I have also considered where a nice middle ground could be drawn, but so far I can only figure mostly dialogue.  Things that are funny, but not really.  Like a guy who is tripping on 10x more acid than you should ever take just spouting absolute nonsense about the purple people eaters living in his sink.  

Sorry for the book but I just want to explain my design thoughts as thoroughly as possible so I can put across a large part of my vision without revealing the workings of the game.  If you have any thoughts on the topic, please fire away.  If you think that I should create my original vision and I should just deal with the potentially massive backlash, let me know.  If you think I need to dial things back to comedy, or have any ideas on how I could find a middle ground, please.  Let me know.  Thank you all!

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As a player, I would much rather play the closer to reality version than a comedic damage control spin of your original vision. Also, drugs are less and less of a controversial thing. In many countries, many unconventional drugs are legal and being sold by certified businesses. You can look at Canada also which is about to legalise pot and other kinds of pain relief drugs for recreational usage. But if we're talking about all kinds of drugs, then it's even less of a controversy because the majority of the developed countries population is on prescription drugs.

I don't think there's anyone that's gonna get pissed that you show how damaging drugs can be. It's commonly accepted that drugs can destroy lives and the subject has been approached by many successful movies and series.

Edited by Michael Aganier

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You're probably right, I'm probably thinking too negatively about this because it's a personal topic as much as it is an issue in society.  You're entirely right that it's becoming less controversial as well, I suppose in that regard I tend to forget the world as a whole for the fact that the area I live in was not more than a few years ago the methamphetamine capitol of the US in terms of ratio.  The more I think about it, I don't want to change my vision at all because it serves a purpose that no other way could.  I saw some awful shit when I was young and I want to pass that perspective on, not only to be a mechanically fun yet at times an emotionally challenging experience, but also because I have had many friends and even family fall into that world and if somebody were considering becoming a part of it themselves, maybe seeing somebody else's experience first hand by personal interaction rather than horror stories on TV could show them the consequences.  Thank you for your input.  If anyone else has any opposing views to that, though, I'm still open to hearing it for the sake of considering everything.

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Making light of a dark topic riles people up because they fear you are glorifying something that is harmful to people.

I once rushed two 17 year old boys to a hospital because they skipped school and smoked weed while drinking. Found them unconscious in a park, I thought they where dead when I first happen upon them.

One suffered brain damage from the event, he took very long pauses between every word he said; like the worlds most f#6k3d up robot. He dropped out of school later. It's still unclear if the damage was from hitting his head when he passed out or the drugs.

Alcohol and cannabis are drugs most people consider safe social drugs, yet the harm they can cause is real and effects a huge amount of people each day.

 

The problem with drugs in games is that kids are the largest audience of games. If you do use drugs in your game then you should do your research well, you will be forced to defend your choice and people have the right to challenge it.

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Also good points, thank you for also reaffirming that I shouldn't dull it down or make light of it.  I agree completely but I just didn't know how other perspectives might differ.  Obviously I'm not going to intentionally include any content that will be geared towards anybody under 18 under any circumstances, and as I said originally my initial vision for this is a world full of depravity.  If anything I would hope that if a younger person got a hold of this game, it would be rather horrific to see this perspective of it and understand that this is all based in reality, these things actually happen in that life.  Rather than glorify I want to vilify from a more personal perspective.  You can read and listen to lots of horror stories from drug use all over, even watch them on TV, but I've never played or seen a game that encompasses what being a part of that world is actually like.  What it's like to know that someone overdosed and died off of a drug you sold them, leaving their wife and kid to fend for themselves.  I've been doing a ton of research into what I'm tentatively calling "contextual background," something that's not constantly in your face but if you look at all, you'll see it there.  

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The obvious thing to do is set the story in a sci-fi setting and use a made up drug, like "dust" on Babylon 5.  This diffuses the controversial aspects of it while still allowing you to be as serious as you want with the subject.  People are accustomed to seeing sci-fi stories do this with any subject.  A good example is that you can't make a game with Nazi's, and especially Hitler, without it being very controversial.  Make it "space Nazis" and "space Hitler", and nobody says a word.

 

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Lol!  Well if we're being honest I had considered doing something like that as well when I was first considering this idea, some sort of change of "non reality" scenery, but it's just not as relatable in my mind.  Space Hitler doesn't make as great of an argument for why Earth Hitler was bad as Earth Hitler himself would, because we never learned an entire chapter of history on Space Hitler.  I want to be able to immerse players fully in that sordid state of affairs where they can connect what they've heard in commercials, to the stories they may have read from others' experiences, and then ultimately create their own inbetween the two.  If that makes sense.  That's why I decided it's so vital to base this in reality.

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Off course you should go for your original vision if your only reason to change is fear of media.

If nobody knows you and you're trying to sell, all publicity is good publicity.

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I applaud the notion of a social impact game to raise awareness about drug abuse. Yes, you'll get negativity from it. If you can't handle the negativity, don't go forward. If you can, then by all means do.

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I don't want to pooh pooh on your idea, but are you sure that creating a game about the seriousness of drug addiction and it's impact on individuals, families and communities is the best approach? Movies and shorts are acceptable mediums, the film industry has had more years learning how to approach such sensitive material. But generally games are considered to be enjoyable playing experiences.  Personally I think it's oil and water you're trying to mix. My only advice if you make this game is don't let cynicism get the better of you.

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