Game designer, visual designer, UX research, narrative and iterative development.
Pressing Matters is intended to teach players about the importance of media literacy through play. Much of Hitler's rise to power relied heavily propaganda. This is something that we are seeing in our culture, today. In teaching players about the importance of media literacy, our goal is that they will adopt the habit in their media consumption habits with the hopes of preventing history from repeating itself.
During gameplay, players must take on either the role of a Citizen or a Journalist. This is a turn-based game, in which all but one player are Journalists. As a journalist, the players must write convincing headlines based on the an issue the town is discussing. As the Citizen, the player wants to make a decision based on what the publications publish in order to further their own agenda. As the Journalists, each player must convince the Citizen to vote in their own favor, while furthering the Journalists own agenda. The player who sways the most votes in their favor, accumulates the most points, therefore is the winner.
At the beginning of the game, players are situated in a town called Town. In the town of Town, citizens makes decisions about how to deal with particular issues they are faced with based on what they read in the newspaper. Each player is assigned a number of agendas, in which they will score points based on whether each issue passes in their favor or not.
The tone of the game is slightly humorous and lighthearted, while reminiscent of real-world issues. While we wanted to the game to be funny, we added an undertone of real-world issues, so that as people are playing, they are thinking about similarities between the two realities. For example, one of the issue players are faced is that there is a thief in Town stealing all of their high-end pastries. In trying to stop the thefts, a bill is being debated on, which states that people may be subjected to random lunchbox searches. Though we have abstracted the issue here, it is easy to see the correlation between the lunchbox searches and stop and frisk.
Different issues are labeled with different icon, The reason for this is that each different issues come with their own set of facts. In labeling the facts and issues with the same icons, it is easy to discern which facts should be used for which issue. Depending on who the players works for as the journalist, they will be given facts that will be used to help them write headlines which is meant to sway the votes in their favor.
Changes we made to the first prototype include information architecture, arrangement of information, distribution of of information.
In the first prototype, journalists are each distributed one fact card, which differs from other journalists facts. We found that this was not ideal because it was hard to give the right facts to the right journalist. Because each journalist has their own agendas to push, they would need to have the right set of information given to them in order to write the best headline.
We decided to take away the symbols, and replace them with numbers. Events are drawn and are placed. in the center of the table standing up so that all players can see the even. Each number on the event cards correspond to a page number within each players' fact booklet. All players are handed a fact booklet at the beginning of the game, which shows their agendas and all of the facts for every issue in the game. This decision was made to simplify the gameplay and mechanics, while also allowing Journalists to find facts for each event easier
We made the fact booklets vertical because we thought this would be symbolic of traditional journalist notepads. Each booklet is attached to a publication. Each publication has its own agenda. The top page goes the player how many points they will score based on whether the citizen votes "YEA" or "NAY" on the event. On the bottom page, the booklet lists the facts that corresponds to the event that they are playing. Each journalist must write a headline for the event they are playing. They can choose to use to use the facts or ignore them.
Each turn, each player must take on the role of a citizen. Each citizen has a set of agendas of their own. While the player is in the role of the Citizen, they are completely detached from their publication. They score based on the Citizen's agendas rather than the publication's agendas. The Citizen role was added to the game to ensure that players do not accidentally reveal their agendas when they are playing the role of the Citizen. After the turn ends, Citizen cards are placed back in the deck, with players choosing new Citizen cards each turn. On the event cards, Citizens can see how many points they will scored based on the which way they point. Their goal is to use the headlines they are given and to vote in a way that they think will score them the most points.
In the final version, the Pressing Matters box comes with four Fact booklets with each from a different media publication, Event cards, and Citizen cards.
Many changes were made to the final prototype. Booklets no longer open vertically, but rather horizontally. First reason was that it was awkward for people to hold the booklets when they are vertical. Most people are not used to a portrait orientation, Second reason was that players really had a hard time reading the information on the cards when they were on top of each other. People were having a hard time remembering their publications and their agendas. As the players go through the booklet, they are able to keep track of how they will score based on the vote. It was too difficult to have to keep flipping back and forth through the booklets. To resolve this, we color coded each of the agendas. On the right side of the booklet, players will be able to see the results of the votes, and which of the agendas related to their publication.
On the left side of the booklet shows all of the facts for the event being played. Each fact is shown with an agenda icon. This is to communicate to the players what each fact is connected to what agenda. If a player valued "environment" as an agenda, they can find the fact with the "environment" icon to help them write their headline. These changes helped players keep track of their agendas as they progressed in the game without having to refer back to their publication page each round. Labeling each fact also helped players to better decided which fact will best help swing the vote in their favor.
The back of Event Cards still say what the results are depending on which way the vote goes. The information architecture on the backs of the Event cards were made to match the left side of player's publication booklets. One of the feedbacks that we received was that players were not understanding that their agendas in their booklets matched the agendas on the backs of the previous Event Cards. In matching the information display in both of these places, it become clear to players, that they are the same information, but just displayed in different places.
For the "Citizen" cards, we decided to give each character a persona. In the previous version, the Citizens were identified with titles of different social groups that fit into. These terms were unfamiliar to many players, which made it confusing and hard to relate for them. It was also difficult for some of the players to play in the mindset of another character because they were not used to playing role playing games. By building a backstory, we hoped that this will help players to vote from the Citizen's perspective rather than their own.