Project Overview


Project Name | Change (working title)

Abstract

I want to create a game, or a series of short games which tell a story of homelessness. These games would be mechanically quite simple, but with a design that intends to give players some idea of the difficulties homeless people must overcome. These game vignettes, short stories or parables would highlight different aspects of homelessness which many people don’t think about. I am currently undecided as to whether these will be levels of an overall bigger game, or standalone games. What I am certain of, is that I want these games to make people think and to have the player take something away from the experience of playing.

My research has shown me that homelessness is a result of so many different factors. However, the recent rise in homelessness across the UK is a direct result of welfare reforms and a lack of affordable housing. Austerity measures introduced because of the global financial crisis continue to impact the poorest in our society. Public opinion towards the homeless remains quite critical, as do attitudes on mental health and welfare spending on the unemployed. These are just some issues I would like to explore, but I am mainly interested in the hidden aspects of homelessness.

Hidden homelessness effects an estimated 300,000 people across the UK. People who are sofa-surfing or living in spare bedrooms and hostels are often not thought about when homelessness is discussed. Another hidden aspect of homelessness is the surreptitious introduction of defensive architecture throughout our cities. Public spaces are being designed or modified to exclude homeless people and prevent rough sleeping. This design has a devastating psychological impact which further ostracises homeless people from society. Defensive architecture effects homeless people in ways which the public may not even be aware of. I want to explore the idea of being designed against and how you may only notice certain things around you when they directly impact your own experience. I’m also interested in looking at how homeless people are ignored and treated like they are invisible. These are the key issues I would like to surface in my project.

I don’t have a concrete idea of what these games will play like yet, although I do have some simple concepts which I would like to explore further.

In one of these games the player would play as a homeless person who starts the game by sitting in the street begging. The only ability the player has is to ask passers-by for change. Sometimes they might give help, but most the time they would just ignore the player. When the player gets ignored, their character turns ever so slightly transparent. Eventually, if enough people ignore the player, their character would become completely invisible, preventing them from interacting with the crowd. When this happens, they get replaced by someone else from the crowd and the cycle continues until there is no one left.

This is just a rough idea and a very literal example, but I think it represents the kind of experiences I would like to create. I’m also open to my project becoming more abstractly related to homelessness meaning it doesn’t necessarily have to be literally about homeless people, I may just take some element of a prototype and explore that by itself. This could be an interesting mechanic or visual that I discover and want to develop further, I’m open to every possibility at this point.

Goals

I would like this project to surface some of the issues around homelessness which many don’t think about. I want my game(s) to have an impact both intellectually and emotionally. I have no interest in making a commercially viable product, although I’m sure there are ways to make a game about homelessness which is both thought-provoking and profitable. I’m more interested in the player experience than I am with commercial appeal.

User Experience

Through my research I’ve found that the demographic with more critical views towards the homeless are the over 40s. According to the ESA, the average age of a gamer is 35 years old and 26% of people who play games are over 50 years old. This means I should be able to reach those who may hold these more critical views through my games. I will also need to do further research on where this audience is, but there’s every opportunity to reach them.

My games will not be mechanically complex and perhaps will only allow the player a few very simple interactions. This means that they should appeal to a broad range of players with differing ability.

I will by no means be the first person to make a game about homelessness, it has been explored in games already.

Spent is a browser-based game which makes players balance the budget of a person with a low-income. The game presents the player with difficult choices and asks them to choose the least worst option. It reminds me a bit of Cart Life, a similar game which has players attempt to make ends meet and survive as a street vendor. There is also a student board game project which deals with homelessness called Outside, the students have interviewed homeless people and use their stories in the game itself.

Perhaps the closest game I have found to what I am trying to create is Outcasted. A virtual reality game which puts players on the street as a homeless person. Here is an article which explains the game more fully. It’s this kind of simplicity which I would like to emulate with my project.

Project Content

My finished project will likely be a standalone PC game developed in Unity. I will also likely make a web version which would allow me to reach the biggest audience possible. In terms of content, I will likely need to produce many character sprites with multiple animations as well environment art, music and sound effects. In theory, I wouldn’t necessarily have to devote as much time to coding as I have done on previous projects because I’m making very simple games.

Project Structure

I think I will be able to create a lot of this project by myself because I will be mainly focusing on quick prototypes to test ideas and visuals. However, during semester two if my project becomes greater in scope I may collaborate with other students depending on what my project becomes.

However, during the next phase of my project I will likely remain working on my own. I don’t think using a methodology like Scrum or Kanban will have any real benefits for a solo project.

My basic plan is to set weekly goals for myself and attempt to complete those at the end of each week. This is essentially what my group ended up doing towards the end SOUNDeSCAPE’s development. We found that we wasted more time organizing and scheduling our Scrum meetings than they saved us.

Although if I do end up within a group or collaborating with other students, I think the Agile methodology is the most beneficial.

Initial Ideas