‘For modern humans, controlling the world means controlling other people, and that means understanding them’. - William Storr, The Science of Storytelling
One thing we wanted to carry over from our previous blogs was the Context series. This was where we wished to explore the landscape and context we were entering into with an MMO such as SEED. Definitely check the articles out if you haven’t already. To break new ground in any genre or IP you need a deep understanding of the form, its traditions and what rules and norms you want to disrupt and break! This, after all, is how innovation happens.
In this post, we want to show a brief summary of some recent research we’ve done into the concept of care with regard to digital life.
A lot of games take caring for a character for granted - it’s implicit in many game types (from RPGs to management games) that characters, avatars and NPCs/environments need to be taken care of. But we find that there are also things to learn from the worlds of law, literature, TV when it comes to caring in games and in SEED in particular. SEED has caring for Seedlings at its core. Empathy, relatability, communication all feed into the player wanting to look after and love their Seedlings. More than just winning, the player wants to see their characters thrive: competition becomes care. This process of how we make Seedlings relatable for players will be a constant topic we’ll keep coming back to in these blogposts, so stay tuned because it really is fascinating.
Lessons from the Law
For example one unexpected source of inspiration can be found in the legal world. Duty of Care is a legal concept that is very interesting to think about in relation to SEED and to the topic of how we make players care about their Seedlings. It’s a formalisation of the social contract in a society and holds people responsible not to hurt, injure or mistreat others: often this means ‘doing their job’ well.
One example of this in gaming is in the popular game Petz, when the player signs an ‘Adoption Pledge’, that outlines the responsibilities of the player toward their character. This relates to real life, and the notion that ‘a puppy is not just for Christmas, it’s for life’.
How could we think about this in relation to SEED? Could it be that Seed Industries entrust you as a player with a Duty of Care for your Seedlings? Do you sign a pledge? Is the Player like The Dude in the movie The Big Lebowski when Brad repeats to him: ‘Her life is in your hands’? These Seedlings’ lives are in your hands. This is a powerful storytelling device to create commitment right from the start.
Seedlings are a kind of pet - they’re people that the players are entrusted to look after and care for. But for context, it’s interesting as Game Developers to look at the genre of games that arose in the 1990s that saw players (or owners) look after and care for digital pets. Many of us will remember tamagotchis. But there were many others.
They all have several things in common. Some basic shared features are: communication is vital between you and your pet; a certain amount of realism with regard to their needs and desires; several different types of interactions, with tie in with communication; and ultimately their death.
Unlike other forms of technology, digital pets act on their own free will, with their own wants and needs, and won't always listen to our orders and in fact demand things from us. Also these games or devices usually start out as infants or children, playing on our human instinct to care and nurture the young.
And like any pet, they need attention and interaction throughout the day, becoming a part of our diurnal lives. This is interesting because since the 1990s, we’ve all become incredibly used to interacting with our smartphone devices the entire day and night, in the company of other people. With a persistent game like SEED, you begin to see the similarities! Again, a Seedling is not just for a game session, it’s for life!