Critical War Game Design: Mapping New Territories

Vit Sisler, CUP

This paper discusses the possibilities and limitations of a critical war game design. By a critical war game we mean a game that through its procedural rhetoric and/or narrative frames challenges and potentially innovates established design practices and generic conventions that dominate the representation of war in video games.

The paper stems from the experience of developing a serious game on the Second World War, Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination, which we developed at the Charles University in Prague in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination is a narrative-driven adventure game based on personal testimonies and historical research. It presents key events from Czechoslovakia’s contemporary history and enables players to “experience” these events from different perspectives. Our aim was to create a “realist game” that strives not only for realistic representations, but aims to reflect critically on the everyday life, with its struggle, personal drama and injustice.

Given the limited number of research on design and development of critical war games, we opted for design-based research in order to determine the solutions to the challenges we faced during the development process. These challenges include the tensions between authenticity and fictionality, realisticness and schematization, procedurality and narrativity, and learning and gaming mechanics. Within the design-based research, we tested a number of game concepts and features through a series of interventions implemented iteratively in natural as well as laboratory settings. This paper critically discusses our design-based research methodology and its results, using retrospective data analysis and cross-iteration comparisons. On a general level, it could be of interest to other serious game designers, as well as researchers of game studies and cultural studies alike.

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