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Computer Science
Completed Project

Broaching Social Issues While Maintaining Appealing Gameplay in Role Playing Games

Carly Bloomfeld, Vassar College ’16, Grace Terdoslavich, Vassar College ’16 and Prof. Tom Ellman

Our URSI project consisted of continuing Professor Ellman’s previous work toward creating a role-playing game (RPG) that aims to educate players about the civil rights movement.

The previous work was done using Professor Ellman’s game engine, Galatea, and includes a game called "Seasons of Freedom", set in the 1960s, which used a drama manager to allow the player to interact with people in a small town who gave information about civil rights movement. The player had the option to respond to the non-player characters in different ways, with each choice resulting in a different outcome.

This summer we worked to expand "Seasons of Freedom" with scenarios that take place in the modern day with the goal of emphasizing to players that racism is not an issue of the past that ended with the civil rights movement, but an ongoing problem. We focused on ways to integrate aspects of modern race issues into a playable game, using some of the groundwork done on Seasons of Freedom. We worked on the game mechanics and wrote dialogue for three mini-games, representing three situations in which racism could be an issue in a young person's life.

One focus of our efforts was on the interaction between different gameplay mechanics, largely centered on stealth and evasion scenarios, and the larger storyline and themes we were trying to convey. This mainly focused on two scenarios: the player character (PC) evading hostile policemen in order to get to school on time, and the PC sneaking to their seat in class after failing at this. While multiple gameplay mechanics were constructed, in the end we decided to develop both scenarios using only one of them, thus highlighting the similarities between the police officers’ and the schoolteacher’s treatment of the player character. The development process also yielded a repertoire of useful processes both for basic movement in an isometric grid world and gameplay events for the further development of this project.

In the future, Professor Ellman plans to integrate the three mini-games we created into a single game, and then combine that game with the original Seasons of Freedom to create a finished product that will educate players on both historical and modern contexts of racism. He also hopes to collaborate with students at the Children's Media Project to ensure that the intended audience of the game finds it both accurate and appealing.