6 Dec 2011

Opening minds: A Closed World

Over the next few months I’ll be browsing the list of IGF entrants, found right here, and giving some thoughts on a few which happen to have caught my eye. First up, A Closed World.

This is very much a game made with the intention of changing preconceptions. It’s a cornerstone of indie development, this ability to put forward ideas that challenge how we view gaming and, sometimes, the world around us. The topic of study here is homosexuality and the struggles that people have against those they love - family or friends - who can’t understand their way of life, and certainly can’t condone it.

The game, currently in prototype, begins: ‘Has it ever occurred to you just how much of our lives is affected by the answer to a very simple-sounding question?’ and then proceeds to ask you your gender. Shortly after you’re dropped into a forest with another simple-sounding choice - either you fight the monsters or you wander alone forever. It’s blunt, but fits effectively. There’s no threat here if you don’t want there to be. You can exist and you can remain unharmed, or you can fight your personal demons and remain true to yourself.

Monsters are dotted about signifying different relationships within the character’s life. Interacting with them will initiate conflict, but not before providing a snippet of an argument in order to provide a subtext for the forthcoming battle. And then you’re required to take part in not so much a heated exchange of words, as an exchange of differing ideas and beliefs. The general rule to grasp here is that ‘passion defies logic, logic challenges ethics and ethics sway passion’. You’ll be fighting monsters with these rules as they defy your sexuality and it provides a sizable indication of just how frustrating and appalling these sorts of circumstances can really be.

Beating your demons will advance the story of a young gay couple trapped by their parents’ prejudice. After that you’re left to wander the woods forevermore, or keep fighting.

It’s a great idea, well suited to the stylings of a stripped-down JRPG. The analogy isn’t stretched, although it is far more of an idea than a game. The battles are intentionally mediocre - you’re supposed to get a feeling of the desperation of such a situation. It’s commendable - not particularly enjoyable, but enlightening. It’s also one of those remarkable little games that highlight just how much further games have to go in order to accurately reflect the world around us.

EDIT: There's a really good written response by Game Director, Abe Stein, to the criticisms recently levelled at A Closed World largely regarding the opening question mentioned above. As a point of interest, in my experience I took it as a fairly meaningless (but pointed) proposition. The game brings up a list of things that gender affects and then proceeds to portray something that largely obscures the male/female divide. As in, it means everything and nothing at all, particularly in this instance.

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