Developing Diversity

Before announcing our latest game, Devastated Dreams, I was scared. Devastated Dreams is a horror game, but as the developer, that isn’t what terrifies me. I was afraid of the response to our choice of player character. Not only is the protagonist a Filipino female, she is pregnant. I honestly expected it to be very controversial in these days where promoting diversity in games often carries with it contempt and a stigma as a “social justice warrior”. However, the reception to our game was warm, and I can’t think of a single negative comment I’ve gotten about our protagonist or our games’ exploration of Filipino folklore. Gamers seem genuinely excited by it!

However, after speaking to a female friend in the industry who has been subjected to unfair cruelty, I began to wonder WHY Devastated Dreams didn’t make waves. We received none of the negativity that is often associated with the game industry broadening its horizons beyond a pastime only shared by male kids of the 80s who could afford the expensive PC or console necessary to play the latest and greatest video games. The answer seems simple: because I’m a white heterosexual male.

I don’t have any evidence to back that up of course, but women are the targets of the most abuse in the game industry. Women speaking out for better gender representation are vilified. Perhaps men can receive some of that scorn, but the internet is a hostile place for women in general as outlined on a recent segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. While there are many laudable things about the game industry including the millions raised for charity by the Humble Bundle and Child’s Play, it isn’t immune from online harassment. John Oliver’s report highlights the abuse of several women in gaming.

Taking a step back, you may be wondering why I am making a game about a Filipino pregnant woman. I’d like to say it’s because I want to promote diversity in games, but my reasons are much less altruistic. The real reason is because it captures my personal interests and experiences. I learned about Filipino folklore from my wife and her friends who were born there, and it’s fascinating to me! The terrifying monsters called aswang that prey on the unborn seemed like a perfect metaphor for my fears as an expectant father. Since the aswang prey on unborn children, a pregnant woman felt like the only choice for the player character. The design of the game fell into place quite easily.

While I am working very hard to make the best horror game I can, I can only offer an outsider’s perspective of being a pregnant woman as well as what life is like in the Philippines. I am working closely with my wife, our family, and friends to ensure that it is an accurate portrayal, but I don’t really know what the experience is like. Besides trying to get players to wet their pants with fear, I want to make Devastated Dreams give players insight into living in the Philippines and the fears and hardships of being pregnant. Of course, I am just guessing because there is no way I can experience it for myself as a white male.

I expect that a Filipino game developer who is also a mother would be able to capture the setting and the horror even better than I. If you fit that bill, I’d encourage you to make a similar game! Because of the current climate in the game industry, I worry about what that abuse that developer might have to face. It seems ridiculous that I get a free pass to make Devastated Dreams because of my ethnicity and gender where as someone better equipped to capture its themes would be subject to harassment.

I strongly feel that our medium benefits from diversity in subject matter and characters, and that is one of the exciting things to me about working on a game taking place in The Philippines. Wouldn’t the medium benefit even more from diversity in creators’ voices? Why do some gamers work hard to silence certain groups in our industry? Harassment is time consuming, so wouldn’t it be better to just ignore someone if you aren’t a fan of her work?

No matter how inclusive and diverse the game industry is, there will always be games starring white males. I don’t think that’s going away – nor should it. As a white male, I find it kind of boring though. If I am escaping to a video game, I think being able to play as different types of characters and have totally different experiences is an amazing thing. That is the magic of our medium! Rather than passively watching what happens to a player character, you can become that person and see the world through her eyes gaining a new perspective. If you aren’t interested in that, it’s understandable, but why try to prevent the existence of those experiences?

If you are interested in learning more about Devastated Dreams and my attempt to capture the fears and struggles of being a pregnant woman, we have more information on our kickstarter as well as downloadable demo, so you can experience the world through the eyes of a character different from yourself.

Posted in Dev Advice, Devastated Dreams

Devastated Dreams is LIVE on kickstarter!

What are you waiting for? Go and check out the project! We are super excited about it, and it should be even scarier than Neverending Nightmares! :)

Posted in Devastated Dreams

Announcing our next game – “Devastated Dreams”

I know it’s been a while since I updated the blog, but we have very exciting news! We’ve announced our next game, Devastated Dreams! (Also, to celebrate, we’ve discounted Neverending Nightmares by 66% on Steam.) You can see the Devastated Dreams teaser here:

Devastated Dreams is a psychological horror game combining the two things that have scared the developer the most – being an expectant parent and feeling totally vulnerable in a rural area of the Philippines without any electricity or running water. It is a narrative focused game telling the story of Angel, a young woman who may or may not be expecting a child as she has to journey through twisted nightmares plagued by horrible monsters inspired by Filipino folklore. We are planning to launch a kickstarter in July, and you can sign up for our mailing list to be notified when it launches over on the official site: http://www.devastateddreams.com

Like Neverending Nightmares, Devastated Dreams, is still very personal. My wife and I are expecting our first child, and it’s actually been quite terrifying. I’m not sure I can really describe how terrifying it can be – how powerless you feel to protect something you love so much that at least at the beginning – is a formless blob. Some pregnancies aren’t viable, and that is a terrible cloud hanging over the excitement of bringing a new life into this world.

Neverending Nightmares was about showing my fears to the world that I couldn’t express any other way, and this game is very similar. My fears now surround my child, which are perhaps more relatable. My OCD magnifies everything of which I’m afraid, and that will always be a battle, but I suspect I’m not the only expectant parent who is terrified that something could happen to my beautiful child. I say beautiful child, but from the ultrasound pictures we’ve seen, it’s kind of tough to tell that it IS a child, but the child is beautiful to me. It is crazy how quickly you feel attached to a tiny collection of cells.

Another aspect of the game that it really interesting to me is the settings in the rural Philippines. My wife is from the Philippines, so I would say I have more interest in the region than the average person. However, I’ve found that it is super interesting, and I think you’ll see when you play Devastated Dreams what I mean. In America, we have legends of vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot, and so on. In the Philippines they have aswang – which is sort of a blanket term for all the different types of monsters. The monsters are pretty twisted – most prey on children born and unborn, which makes them the perfect manifestation of fears for someone expecting a child.

I’m also very excited about the story and the world building we are doing for Devastated Dreams. The Philippines is a developing country, and being a sheltered American, I didn’t really understand how people live in other places. I feel embarrassed for being ignorant, but sometimes you really have to see something to believe it.

I visited the Philippines in 2013, and it was an eye opening experience. When we visited a rural area without electricity, I felt scared. I feel scared a lot, but it’s almost always mental fears tied into worries and catastrophizing. When we were riding in a van along a road in a rural area of Coron, there were no street lights, stores were lit by candles, and there were nipa huts (grass and bamboo houses that are common in the Philippines) in the middle of a dark forest. I imagined myself in one, and I felt a very visceral fear that I was unsafe. There was nothing threatening me, but the unfamiliar and dark jungle felt dangerous throughout every cell in my body. I knew then that it would be a great setting for a horror game. It is also one that would be unique and hopefully eye opening about poverty other places in the world.

The story of the game is a really important facet to Devastated Dreams. Some people were disappointed that Neverending Nightmares didn’t have more of a story. It was meant to be abstract and symbolic like a nightmare you can’t quite understand, but Devastated Dreams is going to be more story based. I love games with great stories, and I think we have a lot of interesting things to say in our new game. To me though, I think story by itself isn’t all games can offer. I want to create a universe that doesn’t fall apart to steal a phrase from my favorite author, Philip K. Dick.

Getting lost in the world of a video game is an amazing feeling. That’s why I am such a fan of Panzer Dragoon and Silent Hill. I feel like I could be in those worlds. That is especially impressive in Panzer Dragoon Saga (on the Saturn) and the original Silent Hill where they managed to create these worlds with polycounts in the thousands. World building can really help a story-driven game. Imagine what Gone Home would have been like without the Christmas Duck, the X-Files VHS tapes off of TV, and a world that really took you back to the 90s. My personal opinion is that it would have been a lot less compelling. I found what the residents in Metro 2033 had to say almost more interesting than the story of the game since it revealed so much about their condition. We want to create something that shows you what the Philippines is like and have a narrative that fits into that. This may sound ambitious, but I think we are creating something really special.

If you are still curious about the project, don’t worry! There will be more information coming soon!

Posted in Devastated Dreams

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Posted in Uncategorized

A heartwarming story about Neverending Nightmares

Firstly, my apologies for not updating the blog. I upload the videos to youtube, mention them on hootsuite, on the forums, and the kickstarter updates, so I usually run out of steam to repost them here. Posting text here would probably make more sense anyway, but I usually do the videos instead of writing because I obsess over every word when I write.

Okay, down to business! As you may know, Neverending Nightmares has many goals besides to just scare the pants off of people. Expressing the feelings of mental illness is important to me because:

  1. I’d like to promote a greater understanding of mental illness, which will hopefully remove some of the stigma associated with it.
  2. I’d like to reach out to those who are currently suffering and show them they are not alone because I think there are a lot of commonalities between my experience and everyone who has mental illness.

I would agree that those are some very ambitious plans, and it may be hard to succeed. #1 is particularly hard to judge the success, but I think by people talking about mental illness and getting in articles like this one on Paste Magazine, I feel I am succeeding.

I would say I am doing a pretty good job at #2. Every so often I get an email or someone comes up to me at an event and mentions how they felt the game really captured how they feel in their own personal struggles with mental illness. I recently got an email from someone that really warmed my heart. I wanted to share it with you all: (with the author’s permission of course)

Im not sure if this is the email you check or if somebody else checks this but mr. Gilgenbach, I would just like to say thank you for creating the game Neverending nightmares. I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder and one day while on youtube I stumbled upon piewdie pie playing this game. I did further research and found out that you also did retro/grade which I thought was an interesting game, I also learned of your battle with ocd and depression which I currently suffer from and I honestly felt like I had found a kindred spirit. Mr. Gilgenbach I was so amazed by how well you captured how I felt with ocd that it almost scared me how similar it felt when watching the main character in the game. For a while I struggled with explaining to people just what I was feeling and then this game comes along and I am just thankful for doing something like this. I have been looking for something that I could hold onto, something that I could relate to and now im not as scared and now im not as sad. Thank you very much.

Remember that if you suffer from mental illness, you aren’t alone! A lot have people have, and things get can get better! I recommend seeking professional help. It is challenging telling your deepest most fears to a complete stranger, and the treatments can be tough for a variety of reasons. However, it can make a huge difference in the quality of your life, so it is worth it – at least it was for me. I’d like to wish the author of this email luck in his struggle fighting OCD and thank him for letting me share his story!

Posted in Neverending Nightmares

145 – DreadOut

The Indonesian horror game DreadOut (act 1) came out recently, so I recorded a video talking about what worked and what didn’t.

Posted in Developer Diary, Horror Games

144 – Among The Sleep

In this video, I give my thoughts on the recently released horror game, Among the Sleep.

Posted in Developer Diary, Horror Games

143 – Presence

In this diary I talk about what developers can do to create a feeling of presence – that you are in the game – beyond just VR. I also talk about how much I’d love Neverending Nightmares to have smell-o-vision (even though I don’t think technology exists).

Posted in Developer Diary, Neverending Nightmares

142 – Ethics Of Kickstarter

In response to Steve Swink’s excellent GDC talk on the ethics of running a kickstarter I give my own thoughts on the ethics.

Posted in Dev Advice, Developer Diary

141 – Kinect

In this dev diary, I talk about the Xbox One’s Kinect, its potential, and why it might make sense to make it optional.

Posted in Developer Diary