Jennifer Allaway

Freelance Game and Narrative Designer

Jennifer Allaway is a game designer, game writer, and games scholar. She got her start in the industry doing research on the prevalence of sexism in the game industry and how it impacts game content. She is now finishing her MFA of game design at the NYU Game Center this May, and has worked on several indie titles such as Shardlight, and 2064: Read Only Memories. Her Indiecade Digital Select Showcase game, Overdose, is still in development. Overdose is based on her mother’s and her own experience with chronic illness. Ms. Allaway continues to look for inspiration for her games in her daily life and the lives of others.

Talk Description:

Autobiographical Game Design: Giving Your Lived Experience to the Player

From Papo and Yo to Depression Quest, when designers feel empowered to invite players into their lived experience, it opens up awareness and empathy in players about real world problems. But autobiographical game design takes a lot of balance and fine tuning – how much of your lived experience do you put in the game? How do you represent it – literally, or in abstract? How do you engage in the realities of the issue with the player, while still making the game an enjoyable experience? Jennifer Allaway will speak about these challenges, and the answers she found, in the design of Overdose. Overdose is an IndieCade digital select 2016 game where you play as a chronically ill person who must take pills constantly in order to stay healthy, while also delivering a narrative about the troubles of finding out you are chronically ill. The experiences are entirely based off of my mother’s experience with Lyme Disease for the past five years, and now my experience with Lyme Disease. She will elaborate on the following lessons she learned in the process: 1) Balancing YOUR experience with the player’s experience. When the lived experience of someone is complex, it can often be hard to express the entirety of it. If one tries to do so, the player will probably not be able to engage with it because too much will be going on. Allaway uses her work to argue for focusing autobiographical games on a specific aspect of an experience to show the most impact. She discusses how Overdose focuses on taking pills and writing a symptom log as the two core aspects, and how healthy players are able to understand the experience better than if she tried to encompass everything.2)Emotion is the most important thing. Overdose uses basic color theory knowledge and a tapping mechanic to make players feel frantic while taking lots of pills; the player always feels unsure if they took the right pill at the right time, and start to panic the worse their symptoms get. However the systems in place are very different from the actual numbers of drugs I take on a daily basis; but what’s important for players to feel that intended emotions. Emotions will ALWAYS resonate with players more than facts. By trying to communicate the feeling of the lived experience more than exact details, the game is stronger. 3) Listen to testers.Allaway outlines how to get good playtesting feedback from game players, and how to navigate receiving feedback about the game without seeing it as a critique of one’s lived experience upon which the game is based on. The talk concludes discussing the power that these games have to help people with similar experiences find and support each other, as well as the positive aspects of empathy and awareness in others, citing Overdose’s presence at IndieCade.

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