Should a game about a real place try to be realistic?
One of the most interesting aspects about any representation of a person, place, or thing is that it is definitely not what it says it is. It will try to convince you it is: a movie about Steve Jobs or Alan Turing or Harvey Milk is going to appear as if it’s telling you their actual story.
Of course, it’s only a representation; an attempt at copying some essence of the original.
I’ve talked before about how all storytellers are magicians of a form, making the illusion that their whole work is nothing more than ink on a page or 1s and 0s. While the reader fills in the blanks, the fact that there are blanks to be filled in is telling. When a book describes a character walking into some bar, we can see the city around them, with people going about their business under the streetlights. But none of those bits exist. Neither does the bar, technically, but at least it’s been presented.
It’s amazing, actually, that people can even make sense of words and pictures at all. The beginning of Flowers for Algernon begins with a mentally disabled man taking a Rorschach test, saying that all he sees is spilled ink. Why don’t we all just see spilled ink? Remarkably, our minds find patterns out of that without. It’s the reasons we can see a commercial about throwing a lamp away and feel bad for the lamp. Without a doubt, it’s the reason we can understand fiction at all.
Some people look to this fakeness and think that there’s nothing to learn. In truth, fiction is perhaps the best place to learn. Many authors have spoken to this. Truth is truth, impersonal, requiring nothing from us. Fiction on the other hand, necessitates the audience’s interaction. They’re there to build the city that surrounds the bar. And they’re there to find a moral in a character’s actions. Whether or not any of this even exists doesn’t really matter. Death of the author and all that.
With this in mind, shouldn’t we err further into the side of fantasy? Of the inane? Delve fully into the fiction? Unfortunately, doing so can turn some away. Some will see the story about a strange race of aliens as being too detached from our own world, and therefore the morals and intentions of the story being too abstract to possibly relate to our own lives. Others will see a story about our own world as being full of characters “that would never do that in real life”.
Not everybody can be happy. That fact shouldn’t stop us, either.
Making Shichikashuku II
Okay, um, but, how does any of that relate to making games? Good question, dear reader.
I’m working on making a game that captures some essence of my town. While the first Shichikashuku game dealt with a new student coming to a school and making friends, this game takes the same idea and spreads it over the whole town. Meaning that I need to make a whole town.
And to what extent do I need to accurately portray the tiny town to a potential outside world?
I’ve been fretting about accuracy this whole time. Will students get mad that my version of a part of their town doesn’t include every house that they know and love? Will my creation accurately represent their town, or will I be making an unintentional mockery of it? They noticed when I forgot the art room in the first game. Will they notice when I forget their own house?
When someone visits the blog and plays the game, am I creating an unrealistic impression of a real town? Am I portraying it wrongly?
Of course, my game is a fiction, and everyone knows. The characters all have big, chibi-like heads, and they run around fighting monsters and demons with swords and guns. As a result, I know everyone’ll give me some leeway. But to what extent do I capitalize on this leeway?
Take the area of Yunohara.
In real life, Yunohara is the second largest part of the town, split over a few separate parts. The main part, however, looks like this from above:
Taking that, I made a simple sketch and then made it in the game, adding a few personal touches:
It came out pretty well, but I still wonder if I could have done it better. Or maybe even made it smaller. Make it more obvious it’s a tiny cut section of the town. Split the town into different little bits. Focus the town bit on having shops, put the graveyard into a different map. I did it with the soba shop, the shrine, and the elementary school. Why not the graveyard too?
It’s a bit of a carryover from how I think about RPG towns. A typical RPG town jams everything into a tiny little area, throwing in 2-3 houses and a farm if it’s a small town and 5-6 buildings and a sewer if it’s a city. In this game, I’m splitting the town into different chunks, with the main section being for character recruitment and buying items, and the other areas for mini-quests and whatnot. Maybe I’ve given the shopping section too much and it’s suffering an identity crisis. Either way, I know it’s not ideal as is.
But more than anything else, the important thing is to get the feeling of Yunohara in the area. How much do I give so that my students will recognize the area as Yunohara? Does the general shape of the area already make them understand it?
Like any creative person, the only thing to do now is create and move forward. Fret less, create more, and edit at the end. After all, it’s a lot easier to edit something that exists than something that doesn’t.
Maybe I’ll make a lot and come to a style I like down the line. I’m not sure. As a budding game developer, and an artist in general, it can take a lot of time and experimentation before I find something that clicks. But once something does, it’s a lot easier to keep going.
I mean, who really cares how accurate the game is? The students will be happy to play a video game instead of typical workbook exercises, right?