Tuesday 27 October, 2020
Woo! Played some games! Last time I taught Death, Grief, and Dying I came up with a two-day activity for students to play That Dragon, Cancer and do some thinking about the role of games and play in representing/coping with loss. I couldn't do the exact same game-based learning lesson virtually, so I modified the activity by using a variety of games (actually sourced from having students dig for them last time!) to give students options and broadening the questions. The variety overcame financial and technological obstacles, which I'm really happy about! I had two free options and games that could be played across PC, console, phones, and iPads: That Dragon, Cancer; Gris; Apart of Me; and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.
This game was a nice surprise, a short slice of compelling story tackling tough themes of death, alcoholism, and child abuse, as well as more uplifting ones like imagination and fantasy. This is an "in between" sort of episode of the Life is Strange series. I don't know how (if) it relates to the first game, and apparently it is a prequel of sorts to the second. You play as a young boy named Chris who lives with his alcoholic dad. Chris's mom/dad's wife has somewhat recently died and dad isn't taking it too well.
As Chris, you spend a morning playing in your room, eating breakfast with your dad, exploring outside your house, mourning your mother, and hoping that your dad will take you Christmas tree shopping like he promised. He gets busy drinking early and watching basketball though, so it's unlikely they ever go tree shopping. No matter. There is plenty to do around the house for an hour-and-a-half. Most of these things have the potential to piss off your drunk, angry dad.
Which is what I found so compelling about the game. Normally in videogames, I poke and prod characters, try a bunch of dialogue options, have fun pissing off NPCs if possible. In this game, I did not want to piss off the dad. I didn't want to call and order a pizza, I didn't want to pretend to zap his whiskey bottle, I didn't want to compare his cooking to my mom's cooking, I didn't want to wake him up after he passed out, I didn't want to play with a dinosaur toy on the floor in the den where he was watching TV. The game succeeds in making you think your actions will bring literal harm to Chris. It effectively establishes an abusive relationship in a realistic setting.
After I finished the game though, I did go back and see what Chris's father would do in response to some of these behaviors. Surprisingly, he doesn't do anything except be irritated with you. There is one funny interaction I found. When he is watching the basketball game (and here, I thought back to my own childhood), if you stand in front of the TV, he will make comments like "Chris, I can't see through you, you know." My dad used to say, "You're a door, not a window." But he never really yells and doesn't get physical, even though it's clear that he has before.
This was absolutely worth the 90-120 minutes it took to poke around and, although none of my students actually chose to play it, I'll keep it on the list for this assignment in the future.