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Players will reinterpret your game. Here's why you should respect that

Ian Gregory, creative director of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows shares a story about how an army captain made him re-think how he approaches designing characters in video games.

“My heart dropped. Because, can you imagine living your life that way, never mind playing your game that way? We play games to feel more powerful—this is a man who has internalized the idea that someone else’s life is more valuable then is, and it affects the way he plays his games.”

- Masquerada creative director Ian Gregory, after being told an army captain couldn’t beat a mission he designed because he wouldn’t sacrifice the game’s virtual troops.

Game design can almost be like magic sometimes. Some like to say it’s because designers can take players to far-off worlds, but in reality it’s because they have the power to shape people’s beliefs just with the rules of gameplay.

But for Witching Hour Studios creative director Ian Gregory, that power means sometimes your players will blow your mind by pit your gameplay against their beliefs. During a stream of Witching Hour Studios’ new RPG Masquerada: Songs and Shadows last week, Gregory told our stalwart Gamasutra staff a story that sent shivers down our spine—one about an army captain stationed in Afghanistan who was playing Witching Hour Studios’ previous game Ravenmark

When Gregory first got an e-mail from this captain, he was already stunned by the man’s feedback on his free-to-play turn-based strategy game. The man told Gregory that “surviving a mission means [he] got to play more Ravenmark.” 

But the captain was stuck on a certain mission. According to Gregory, it was a story-driven mission where the player was supposed to save a commander and sacrifice a group of soldiers in order to make it through. But Gregory says this man couldn’t do it. “Basically he was trying to save the leaderless troops before the commander. Because if you’re a captain you’re trying to save your troops before you save yourself.”

Gregory had already explained to us how life in Singapore and the country’s diverse culture and class warfare had influenced the design of Masquerada, but he told us this story gave him a broader perspective about game design as a whole. “That really [changed] around how I treat characters in games,” Gregory says, “because no one is a throwaway. Every character has a story behind them, and we don’t have time to explore that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t respect that.”

For more insight on incorporating different cultures and worldviews into your own game design, be sure to watch the full stream with Gregory as we play through an early mission of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows. And be sure to subscribe to our channel on Twitch for more live interviews with game developers. 

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