Wake up sleeper, we are the last worker !
In this time of chaos and capitalism, where we wake up every day to see one piece of news or another about the planet, which makes us not want to get up from our beds, the only thing that makes it a little bearable to live in this world is video games.
On 26th July 2023, I had the chance to visit one of the greatest masterclasses held by BAFTA called Exploring Dystopia in Games. The masterclass was given by the creators of the two most renowned indie games - Citizen Sleeper and The Last Worker
Gareth Damian Martin, (They/them) is the solo developer and designer of Citizen Sleeper. A highly narrative tabletop RPG game based on near dystopian ruins of interplanetary capitalism, where you play as an escaped worker trying to explore the station, choosing your friends, and escaping your past and change your future, this game is fantastic. By using the very “Gamie” mechanics of dice roll and letting chance decide the fate of the main character, you survive with whatever resource these chances provide you.
Jörg Tittel (he/him), writer and director of another alternate “reflection of the current times” dystopian game The Last Worker, an immersive puzzle-narrative adventure that tells the story of Kurt, a lone worker, the last one standing in an increasingly automated world forced to choose between capitalism and activism.
The two talks were completely different from each other in various ways. I could describe one as a very passion-based talk where Jörg was able to convey his idea of how he came about creating this beautiful narrative experience. On the other hand, the completely different talk by Gareth Damian Martin was more focused on creation.
What I learned from Jorg's talk were small insights into how things went behind the scenes and how his filmmaking skills gave birth to this beautiful product. Being a filmmaker myself, I’ve been someone who has always been hanging in between films and games trying to find that correct balance to create an experience like no other. His talk gave me a lot of inspiration regarding the fact that creations like these have their own space in this gigantic world of games with mindless never stopping game loops.
From Gareth’s talk, I learned how they were more focused on the creation of this game. Being a writer they had a lot to say about the philosophy of how they came about the idea of creating Citizen Sleeper.
The most fascinating thing which caught my attention was that “Citizen Sleeper” was a portrayal of Gareth’s real-life experiences. While the cover art of the game doesn't feel like it is a thing that could have happened in real life, their explanation of how this idea came about made me think a lot about how I create games and experience myself. Where I mostly end up “vomiting out” the experience directly onto paper or on the audience, they had a completely different approach.
During their talk, Gareth shared their life experience, a time when they were working on a zero-hour contract trying to manage between the money they got from work two days and then never being called back to work. An experience of their life that was totally based on the chance that they would get a job today or maybe next week.
This feeling they encapsulated with the help of dice roll and resource management, blew my mind. A very simple but elegant, an on-point focused intention where they didn't just “vomit out ” their experience and serve it to the audience, but hid it behind a very attractive and interesting world. Sure, the story and narrative were different from their life, but the feeling was exactly the same.
With respect to the time constraint and minimum resources, Gareth created these three points that were eventually the technical design pillars that ended up formulating this beautiful craft.
These three points (from what I remember) were also very amazing for a person who practices game design. The points are not exactly the same as they were in the presentation since they were out of time, but these are what I learned:
Focused Design — Design and implementation that is focused on a feature and experience in a minimal and direct way.
Minimum Viable Game/Product/ something* (They mentioned that they hate this name as this was too much of a corporate term xD) — Create the minimum thing required for a feature, it should work and the message should be conveyed.
Time Management — What doesn't fit in the timeline is out of the game.
The world is changing around us. “Games are one of the highest forms of art” these days. There was a time when games were just for entertainment and kids but now they are way more., They are helping in forming a world and creating awareness among the people about what's happening around us and how we make our stand for it by telling these amazing narratives and making people experience it on their own, by interacting with and living in these worlds, albeit for a short amount of time.
I am at a point where I swing between creating and making. Seeing all these wonderful products and their impacts, I feel like using my skill to create something great and impactful which doesn't take away from the fact that at the end of it all, games are just games and not a mode of propaganda. But if the shoe seems to fit where it does, then who am I to deny anything?
We game creators have to wake up as we are the last workers who can impact this world by staying and creating these fun experiences for people to enjoy and get inspired by.