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Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude is about being trapped in an elevator in which someone keeps hitting the wrong buttons. It's a game of secrets and betrayal between humans stuck in a cramped space.

Joel Couture, Contributor

February 21, 2017

5 Min Read

The 2017 Game Developer's Conference will feature an exhibition called Alt.Ctrl.GDC dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions. Gamasutra will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase. You can find all of the interviews here.

Schadenfreude takes the experience of being trapped in an elevator where someone keeps hitting the wrong buttons, accidentally or purposely, and turns it into a game of secrets and betrayal between humans trapped in a cramped space.

By placing a handful of people within a tiny place, Schadenfreude looks to make players work together despite their discomfort about personal proximity. In its cramped environs, players will learn to work together no matter how shy and irritated they may be.

Assembled by a team of students enrolled in Parson’s Design and Technology MFA program, Schadenfreude will be on display at the ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit, where players can experience the fun of its tight quarters for themselves.

Gamasutra reached out to the student team who created, talking with them about breaking down barriers between players through forcing them into uncomfortable situations, and also the fun of screwing over the people standing right beside you.

What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?

We are Courtney Snavely (game design and programming), Seung Whan Lee (Han) (game design and graphics), Paul Frank Mallon (game design and hardware), Mikei Huang (graphics and web development), and Kevin Constantino (fabrication).

How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?

Everyone has had that experience when the elevator is so crowded that they can’t physically select the floor they need. The controller is an embodiment of that experience with hidden traitor mechanics. 

What's your background in making games?

We are all students of the Parson’s Design and Technology MFA program. None of us come from a traditional game development background, but we have all been exploring the juxtaposition of art, games, and design for the past few years. Schadenfreude is the product of The New Arcade course at Parsons. 

What development tools did you use to build Schadenfreude?

We used arduino to control all of the hardware, and a Java based software for the digital output. 

What physical materials did you use to make it?

Our first prototype was comprised of a wooden platform, and the elevator button panel (wood and arcade buttons). Players were given information via the screen and haptic feedback in wristbands.

For the newest iteration, we are conveying information with flip phones and text messages, and creating a plexiglass encasing for the button panel. We are using a metal sheet and lightweight plastics to create the claustrophobic feeling of the elevator.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

The game was originally a week long project, that has been extended since October. 

How did you come up with the concept?

We knew we wanted to create a collaborative game that involved pushing personal space boundaries. From there, we tried to think of claustrophobic situations in which you have to rely on strangers. An elevator was the perfect context to fit this concept.

After figuring out the elevator setting, we were then inspired by the movie *Devil* (strangers are stuck on the elevator with the devil). We thought it would be fun to add a less violent element of a hidden traitor who takes pleasure from making others late. 

What drew you to turn an irritating experience into a fun one? In finding the laughter in something that typically annoys?

We all have to use the same very inefficient, cramped elevator system every day. There is the initial instinct of “I don’t want anyone to touch me,” but we wanted to provide an alternative experience to that. It was really important to us that players move beyond the initial awkwardness to work together and rethink their somewhat uncomfortable daily interactions with strangers. 

What do you feel that putting the players in close quarters with each other adds to the play of Schadenfreude? What does the unique controller add to the experience?

Forcing players to be physically close to each other, there is immediately an inherent acknowledgement of I am very uncomfortable. However, players quickly move beyond this and form a much stronger bond than would have been formed if the game was purely digital.

The fabrication adds to the cohesiveness of the experience. Players are much more willing to be in close quarters when the structure is visibly recognizable as an elevator. 

What thoughts went into creating gameplay around hitting the wrong button on an elevator, or doing so on purpose?  

Again, we wanted to turn an annoying experience into something humorous and fun. We’ve all be on an elevator when someone gets the button wrong, or a child intentionally presses all of the buttons. The term schadenfreude is a German word that literally translates to pleasure derived by someone from another’s misery. By encouraging players to press the wrong button, we were hoping to enhance that feeling. 

How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?

We hope that the idea of what an immersive experience is will extend beyond the traditional interface or VR headset. We see physical controllers as a medium to explore game narrative and immersion. 

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