The Foggy Glass is a game about stereotypes, profiling, and various kinds of “-ism.” You are the bouncer at a bar in a generic fantasy universe, tasked with keeping the peace. Patrons of different species (including elves, vampires, aliens, and fairies) will interact with each other in different ways. Sometimes two people will get along, sometimes one will intimidate the other into leaving, and sometimes a brawl will break out. The happier the atmosphere in the bar, the higher your score, so it’s in your best interests to be careful about who you let in, and kicking troublesome patrons out is often a good idea.
After awhile, though, the screen will occasionally flash to the “real world” for a moment. This reveals that each fantasy species has a corresponding human stereotype. Eventually the player can choose which world to look at while they play.
Much more of an experiment than a finished piece, this game was meant to highlight the fact that a lot of prejudices are actually subconscious rather than malicious – we don’t really think about why we feel a certain way, but it affects how we perceive and act upon the world. The idea of the game was to put a different spin on the world and force us to look at irrational prejudices through new eyes.
We intentionally designed this game so that achieving a higher score and doing the “right thing” – being fair and not discriminating – often directly conflicted with each other. It was meant to be a subtle reminder of the fact that society exerts pressure on us when it comes to how we look at people – prejudice doesn’t form in a vacuum. We also wanted players to be forced to choose whether to seek external validation – a high score – or try to be a nice person. To reinforce that theme and try to replicate the way that your surroundings sometimes encourage prejudice, your boss periodically makes moderately prejudiced comments as the game goes on.
What was I told to make?
The assignment was to make a game that was either educational or that addressed a social issue. (Experimental Game Design, second project.)
When did I make it?
The fall semester of my senior year (2011).
How long did it take to make?
Two weeks from assignment to completion.
What parts did I make?
The game’s concept was my idea, and myself and the level designer were primarily responsible for defining the relationships between the various stereotypical people. I built the pathfinding system for the bar patrons as well as a graph-based system for determining how much patrons would affect each others’ moods based on where they were sitting in relation to each other. I also implemented the sound effects.
Who else helped make it?
Myself and five teammates: two other programmers, an artist, a designer, and a project manager/jack of all trades.
This game is very much a first draft, not the least because the team that made it represented maybe three stereotypes total between them. We couldn’t stop laughing wryly about the fact that, while making a game which was an attempt to highlight the problems of stereotypes and profiling, we were relying on stereotypes. I don’t think we did too badly for such a quick project, but in retrospect there are some huge problems – for example, only one of the human versions of the stereotypes is a woman, which is a pretty glaring error. Also, each individual of a given stereotype also acts exactly the same as all the others, which doesn’t exactly send the right message, but we were pressed for time. If we were going to have a second go at this, the first thing we’d do is research, research, research, and get some people from different walks of life on board. We’d also want to introduce some variation for individuals.
Even with the problems, a lot of people had interesting reactions to this. Some people realized quickly that certain stereotypes were prone to causing trouble and would never let them in the bar. These were usually the type of people who go for the high score no matter what. At the other extreme we had others who would try to be fair about who they let in and ignore their score entirely. Our professor actually commented that, until he caught himself, he was a lot more prejudiced about letting certain people in once he saw what they were supposed to be when they were human, and it made him rather thoughtful. We were quite proud of that.
Yes, the bartender is a unicorn with a cigar, five o’clock shadow, chest hair, and a tattoo. And yes, he stays a unicorn even when everyone else in the room becomes human. What’s your point?