Heavy subjects, and video games

If all media are somewhat autobiographical, then all games express something about the society the designer lives in.
The moment this becomes interesting, is when games dare to ask some of the hardest questions imaginable.

The Cat Lady (Harvester Games, 2012), deals with severe depression and thoughts of suicide. Papo & Yo (Minority Media Inc., 2012) deals with a young boy’s relationship with an abusive, alcoholic father. This War of Mine (11 Bit Studios, 2014) is set in a war zone, painting a realistic picture of what being a civilian caught in crossfire is really like.

Vander Caballero, the designer behind Papo & Yo, has openly admitted to the game being his own childhood retold through metaphors. He also defined the game as “The only game he wanted to make, before he dies” (Leone, 2012).

Jane McGonigal created Superbetter – a game and online community based on therapeutic actions players can take in real life to improve their situation and mental health. This project was realised, after she herself went through extensive surgery after a concussion.
After more than a month, lying in bed, undergoing slow and painful recovery, McGonigal came to the conclusion that “I am either going to kill myself, or I am going to turn this into a game.” (McGonigal, 2012)
Once again, by addressing the negative issues in society, we can use media to grow, and mend.

As Vander Caballero expresses it:
“I think the most important part of telling a story is that we learn through stories […] We’re not creating games – we’re creating cultural products. Games are not only games […] they have to serve something to society” (Leone, 2012).

Games add to society either by documenting it, or by affecting people within it.
Media will naturally always be inclusive, and never simply showcase the uncomplicated, happy parts of life.
By daring to ask some of the hardest questions imaginable, games – like all media – has an ability to help expand whatever we call culture, by expressing the negative emotions, as well as the positive.


Leone, Matt (2012) ‘Therapy, Alcohol, and Chickens: The Story Behind PSN’s Papo & Yo’. Polygon.
Available at: https://www.polygon.com/2012/10/12/3493250/therapy-alcohol-and-chickens-the-story-behind-psns-papo-yo (Accessed: 25 November 2017)

McGonical, Jane (2012) The Game  that can give you 10 Extra Years of Life. [TED talk]
Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_the_game_that_can_give_you_10_extra_years_of_life (Accessed: 27 November 2017)


Harvester Games (2012) The Cat Lady [Video game] Screen 7.

11 Bit Studios (2014) This War of Mine [Video game] 11 Bit Studios.

Minority Media Inc. (2012) Papo & Yo [Video game] Minority Media Inc.

McGonical, Jane (2015) Superbetter [Video game / Mobile App] SuperBetter LLC.
Available at: https://www.superbetter.com/ (Accessed: 2 December, 2017)

One Reply to “Heavy subjects, and video games”

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