Call to Arms entry 01: Couples Counseling

Writer L.B. Jeffries contributes his response to the Call to Arms, a proposal involving marriage counseling and conflict resolution.

I've always wanted to make a game about couples counseling. My Mom is a marriage counselor and she uses a variety of social exercises and games to get people talking, so I figured just transfer it to the digital medium.

There'd be a variety of games within the overall title. One would be the two partners picking whose the upset party. You'd then go through a mundane dialogue tree that lists out how upset you are, while the other person selects responses like "I'm sorry" or "I don't see why this is a big deal". Back and forth, back and forth, scripted responses. The reason you do this is because people often have trouble voicing their complaints to a partner. One person might be too dominant, while the other might be afraid of them (in that nice, couples kind of way). The pre-set responses let them slowly get the dialogue going by giving someone a chance to say they're upset and then letting the other person say they don't get why. It's literally just an RPG-dialogue except there's no NPC.

Lets see...another would be people creating a running score system. You both setup 5 things you'd like the other partner to do that week and then you get to mark if they did it or not. Wash the dishes, leave the toilet seat down, etc. Sort of a Wii-Fit scoring system. That's more a graph than anything though.

Another would be basic games that involve co-operation and sharing. If one partner feels like the other doesn't pay attention to their needs, make them play a co-op game where one is responsible for the other's health. A sharing one could be where two people have to get through a level but only one can hold the sword or jump boots or whatever. They have to swap the item and get through obstacles working together. The key being, they have to communicate with one another to get through the level. Once the couples get used to talking to one another about a video game level, maybe they can upgrade to more serious stuff?

I dunno...I guess this isn't quite the emotion you were talking about but I know a lot of people who would buy this for 20 bucks over paying for a counselor.

-L.B. Jeffries


Steve gaynor said...

Thanks for the entry, L.B.

This game seems like it would have real potential as a "serious game"-- software that people would use to practical ends, to help solve their marital problems.

As far as aiming for a 'feeling,' what is one's desire when entering counseling? To gain a sense of peace, or relief, or unity with their partner? Maybe the goal of your game's interaction is to make the player feel the sense of resolution that marriage counseling is meant to provide in practice.

Kirk Battle said...

Hmmm...my concept of video games always comes back to Joseph Campbell's reaction to them. He just thought they were another way of teaching wisdom to people. The game generates an experience, the experience induces reflection and understanding, and thus teaches something important to the person.

The literal pay off would be the resolution between couples, but that's only on the surface. The emotion, on the other hand, would be the discovery of deeper personal flaws or limitations. Having both the game and your partner communicate that you're say...overly controlling would lead to a confrontation with that aspect of yourself. Rather than watching an overly controlling person in a movie and realizing that you act like them, you realize it through more direct means. What the game facilitates is a new form of feedback on yourself, feedback that makes you realize the behavior which you would otherwise never notice. The emotions of denial, depression (maybe you had a bad ex-lover), and resolution all come about as you deal with these parts of yourself.

Lemme think of an example...it's like in 'Ender's Game'. The main character plays video game tests by the military all the time. One of them is a game that's very wide open and seemingly full of options BUT the final boss is impossible to beat. The game is to test his capacity to accept when something can't be won. Ender plays the game excessively and is eventually forced into the emotion of confronting this flaw in himself. Depression, anger, resolve, and eventually catharsis when the Buggers let him beat the now juvenile game after his compulsive behavior results in the genocide of a whole race. The emotions are just a part of the overall lesson itself.

This is kind of my own take on video games as experience systems and using those experiences to teach. So for me the emotions are means rather than ends, which might not help for this project. Sorry if this is rambling too much...

Steve gaynor said...

Personally, I think it's interesting to turn these things over and see why they're interesting to us and how they might impact the player. So no, you're not rambling too much :-) Thanks for your contribution. "Video game as mirror" isn't a concept that's often explored.