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Crush Write-Up on Plus 10 Damage

David Russell Gutsche tweeted me a link to his coverage of our game on Plus 10 Damage this morning. 

I really like this article! He had a different take on the game than Issam or I had considered, so I wanted to share it here as well. The summary: "Crush is a game that features being in love and being a jerk.  In that order." Definitely go read it


Crush Press

Our Global Game Jam game, Crush has gotten some press!


Penny Arcade Report: It’s just a little crush: what a game about anxiety taught its creator about the real thing (Sophie Prell)

People come and chat with you as you slowly make your way across the room, but their words are empty. You only care about getting to your crush. But you’re close now. Close. So close. You can hear your heart pounding in your ears. Your vision blurs with each pump. Too close. Too close. You turn away and retreat, as far as you can, away from your crush.


Kill Screen: Crush is the first-person game about cubes (and people) with anxiety disorders (Jason Johnson)

“Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom,” the theologian Søren Kierkegaard famously wrote in his philosophical work The Concept of Anxiety. What he meant was this: because we are autonomous beings, having the ability to think for ourselves, we are prone to worrying over the choices we make. You could say that once you start thinking about anxiety, you already have a problem.


Indiegames.com: Browser Game Pick (Danny Cowan)

Developed as part of the recently concluded Global Game Jam, Crush is a short experience in which players must wade through a crowd and approach a spotlighted blue cube, though anxiety manifests itself throughout and sabotages your intentions.


PC Gamer: Free Webgame Roundup (Tom Sykes)

As an exploration of anxiety/panic attacks, I found Crush quite moving and effective, despite having no idea how to win out over my frustrating body. 


Crush Follow-Up: What I Learned

Indiegames.com & The Penny Arcade Report posted about our game!!

*EDIT* This is the link to the initial post with the playable game.

After I sent the game in to indiegames.com, John Polson asked me what I felt I had learned from the experience, and I ended up writing quite a bit. It was a great question because it gave me the opportunity to really think about the prototype, and what we had created. They posted about the game before I sent my response to his question, but I feel like what I wrote would be good to share. 

My response: 

Good question! The blog post is pretty vague because I'd only just “finished” it - and since I was getting ready to present it to the Albany chapter of the IGDA I was a little more caught up in explaining why I made it. 

Thinking about it, I’m not really sure that I “learned” anything specific about experiencing anxiety. Instead I would say that we did a study of it by trying to recreate it in game form. It’s like sketching a figure; where you need to be able to identify the individual parts and understand how they fit together in order to make a realistic drawing. You know that there are arms and legs – like I know that my heart is beating fast and my mouth is dry – but can you put them all together to make something recognizable? The thought was that in breaking down those smaller parts and really looking at them, I might be able to identify them and maybe freak out a little less the next time. 

That’s probably all of the answer that you need, but when I was trying to answer your question, I wrote all of this other stuff about the specific decisions we made. Maybe you will find it interesting? 


Regarding the system itself, my partner and I only just started to scratch the surface (it was only 48 hours, after all), but there were a lot of things we started to identify. How does the stress grow? Is it linear? Is it just based on proximity to the guy you’re trying to talk to? Real life stress is more slippery than that, so for this prototype, your proximity to the guy affects your rate of becoming more anxious. There are definitely more factors we’d like to include (for example, if you don’t see him, and then suddenly realize he is standing next to you – it would shock you into a higher state of stress). 

Physically, what happens when you are experiencing anxiety? You definitely experience a change in heart rate, which is how we ended up working with this idea based on the theme. We represented this by visualizing the heart rate - which also ended up evoking the feeling of tunneling vision, which adds to a sense of panic. I also find that it becomes hard to focus on what is going on around me, because I am focusing in on what is happening to me. We tried to show this by manipulating the sound, since there’s no actual conversation to tune out. 

How do you calm down? (That’s the real question!) How can other people help you or hurt you when you are dealing with the problem? For me, it seems like the only real way to deal with anxiety is to get my mind off of it. In real life, this so far has meant excusing myself and getting some time alone, because I am usually experiencing stress from talking to other people. In the game, you can stand at the edge of the party to cool down. In an abstraction (since there is a single point of stress in this case), we also decided that the other people could serve as distractions. Talking to others puts you into a “cool down” state, where your anxiety decreases linearly, although it’s a slow change. Unfortunately, you don’t have any control over how long you talk to them, because you can’t just walk away from a conversation - so they make it harder to get to the guy when you are feeling up to it. 

I wasn’t able to learn how to conquer my anxiety in 48 hours (that would have been a cool story), but I was able to break some of what was happening down into smaller pieces. I am hopeful that this will give me a point of reference the next time it happens to me, and perhaps help me to deal with the situation?

As a side note, we also learned some things about making games. I didn’t have any doubt going in that a game would be able to capture this experience, but I was surprised that simplifying the graphics (which was done out of necessity) actually made the effect more poignant. Thinking about it now, I think we’ve seen many times that icons can end up creating a much more personal effect than realistic models because you are being asked to fill in the blanks by engaging your imagination. Sometimes when I play, I experience moments that line up too well with reality and it freaks me out. For example, I have had moments where I finish a conversation, turn back to the guy and realize that he is all alone and I am about to approach him - which actually makes my heart race a little bit. (I’d like to expand the game so that you can only speak to him when he’s not engaged in another conversation.) 

The reception has been interesting too. We wanted to be really careful about oversimplifying the experience, because we didn’t want to trivialize what’s actually happening in real life. When you talk to other characters to calm down, we didn’t want it to be an instant solution, or else you would think you could just “talk to 3 guys and beat the game.” It’s intentionally slippery and frustrating, a lot of things are outside of your control, and when you think about it as a game it seems unsuccessful. It’s definitely not “fun” to play. 

I don’t think this is a perfect prototype, and there are things about it that don’t work (for example, because there are so many random variables, sometimes it’s really easy to talk to the guy), but I do think we might have just started to touch on something. It was definitely an interesting experiment.


Global Game Jam 2013 - Crush

Theme: the sound of a beating heart

There's a game idea I've been kicking around for the last year or so. Right around GDC last year a few things happened in the same span of time: I played Anna Anthropy's Dys4ia, I played Unmanned, and I watched Indie Game: The Movie, where Jonathan Blow talks about taking his deepest flaws and vulnerabilities, and putting them into his own games.

When those things came together, I started thinking about how I could translate my own issues and flaws directly into a gameplay experience. Comically enough, I landed on... the way I get when I have a crush on a boy. There's a lot I can get into about why I consider this to be an *actual* issue (my lack of mental discipline and obsessiveness) - but when I tried coming up with ways to explore my boy-craziness in gameplay, my idea was to specifically explore the heart-in-your-mouth sensation of actually trying to talk to said crush. I thought the panic was pretty interesting, and something that a lot of people would be able to relate to.

But the interesting part is that in the last couple of months, I've started to discover that I might have a real problem with anxiety. Not just the sort of everyday nervousness that comes from trying to talk to someone you don't really know, but irrational, overblown panic and fear. It manifests itself in several ways, and has begun to interfere with my everyday life. Now it seems like this funny, simple idea I've been building up has taken on new significance.

On the way to the jam, we joked about using the GGJ to make a game about anxiety - and then it turned out that the theme was the sound of a beating heart.

Crush is a simple prototype that explores the idea of anxiety. We were trying to recreate some of what I've been feeling. Perhaps in breaking down the pieces that make up a panic attack, simplifying them and creating a system, I can learn something about what is happening to me.

*EDIT* I did a more detailed write-up about making the game & what I learned here.

>> Click here to play the game online <<



Team: Issam Khalil & Cat Musgrove

Time Frame: Friday (01/25) 6:30pm - Sunday (01/27) 2:00pm

Music: from http://www.JewelBeat.com


**Note: It is actually possible to beat the game!

Download the playable prototype here. (Unzip and play .exe)