Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Games For Change - 'Decisions That Matter'

I like that title. Maybe we'll start a series on this. I don't know. Let's see how this overview goes.

Also an advanced trigger warning. This particular game  I'll be discussing tackles the issue of sexual assault. If that is a sensitive issue to you, or you become uncomfortable, this is your warning.

Decisions That Matter was inspired by Jess Klein, a coordinator of gender programs and sexual violence prevention at Pittsburgh University. Frustrated at the poor prevention tools, the lack of information, and victim blaming, Klein wanted to do something to help people get inside each other's heads. To see and react to situations, so that prevention can occur and the public can stop placing fault on the victim.

The team that developed the game are all independent coders, artists, and designers. Each of them working towards creating games that ask people to think about the world around them. Such as Kanane Jones, Final Girls, and Nina Freeman, Freshman Year. They are creating games that are not about points, but prompt you to be engaged and respond. With the recent news stories surrounding sexual violence on college and university campuses, and the events surrounding Bill Cosby, a game like Decisions That Matter needed to exist.

The game is told entirely from the point of view of a bystander. You are placed in situations as an outside observer, and can choose to intervene on actions. Reactions may not always work in your favor, though. Sometimes attention that appears to be unwarranted, may be wanted by the recipient. It turns into a mind f* on some occasions. Sometimes you're sitting in a bar or at a restaurant with friends, and you see a woman getting hit on from across the way. She looks uncomfortable and she appears to have a defensive stance, with her arms crossed and her head turned away. But the man who approached her isn't giving up. Do you stand by and let the action play out? Do you get up and try to stop it?

And just to make it a bit more real, your in-game friends will make fun of you for your White Knight efforts. You'll be taunted and teased for assisting someone in need. "You don't know that person. Why should you care? He's not doing anything wrong."

For as simple as the design and look of the game is, it becomes frighteningly real. And that's the point.

The situations you're presented in the game happen to women and men daily (I know we don't like to talk about it since it happens more prominently to women, but it does occur to men as well). And most people don't intervene. We don't stop the cat calling, the butt grabbing, or push people away after someone says No. Something that may seem innocent as a man touching a woman's shoulder can be a pre-courser to much more. You may laugh at that, but there is nothing fun about a random stranger touching you. I have a very big bubble around my personal space. If you're in it and I don't know you, all of the red flags go flying. "I need an adult" may or may not be uttered. "What's the big deal? I'm just touching your shoulder." Well how would you like it if I randomly touched you without your knowledge or consent? What if that guy did? What if 5 more people did? Is that okay to be in your personal space, having strangers touching you?

As the game progresses, the situations become more...disturbing. It places you in moments where you choose if a woman is put into serious harm. And that's why I'm floored at the balls of Decisions That Matter being unafraid to tackle this topic. Because it needs to be talked about.

Now if you're interested in playing but all of this is scaring you off, not to worry. There is a "panic" button in essence. If the situation becomes too much, you can click it and leave the game. No harm. No foul.

Wouldn't it be nice if life had one of those. I'd carry it in my purse next to my mace.

Can you make mistakes in the game? Absolutely, just like life. You may find out that your attempt to stop a man from flirting with a woman, when it looked like she was in fear, was actually that woman's long-time crush. She was so stunned that he talked to her that she didn't know how to react. And now you've ruined her chance to strike a conversation. But guess what? This happens every day. You're going to make an ass out of yourself in life. Get use to it. If it were me, I'd rather you'd be wrong about stopping this situation, versus the alternative...

It's worth playing through Decisions That Matter. While I'm not a fan of the "White Knight" aspect, the game's heart is in the right place. We need games that cause us to think and play different. And maybe, just maybe, it'll open up a few eyes to people and realize that assault and harassment happen far too often. Because they do. :/

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