It took me a long time to discover what the core mechanic of my game would be, as there were a plethora of ways to express the nonsensical nature of grief as indicated in my essential experience.
As I’m generally attracted to puzzle-based games, I thought it an obvious first step to consider my game idea in the light of the very basic ‘character overcomes obstacle’ formula, therefore giving me an ability to develop my main character through the core mechanic of the game. But the further the story of my game developed, the more basic that idea became, and I couldn’t put it through Schell’s lens of interest with many applicable results.
After a discussion with my tutors and peers I latched onto the idea of distorting reality in terms of the main character’s interaction with NPCs. The further I thought about this, however, I wasn’t sure how to achieve it in a concise and distinct way. I revisited my early research on grief, especially my thoughts about my personal experience (page 38, sketchbook 1) and found that one of the key components in my experience of grief was that of things seeming normal until you attempt to discuss your emotions, at which point people often don’t know what to say or how to act. It was my mum’s idea to turn this into a mechanic, have other characters stop reacting to you in a normal way only when the character exhibits signs of grief.
I played around with grief being an interactive mechanic that would somehow change the way the game was played, but didn’t want the mechanic to solely affect interactions with NPCs, as part of my essential experience is in gaining independence, and I wanted the player to spend some time with Hope on her own. With a lot of discussion, the idea of turning Hope into some sort of ghost whilst she was grieving arose, affecting her not just in terms of interaction with other characters but also in her physical attributes. I decided that she would become lighter and therefore able to interact with the environment in a different way, and outlined this and some other basic mechanics to go alongside it (pages 61/62, sketchbook 1).
Through a few weeks worth of critiques, I managed to decide that the core mechanic, currently known as Grief would be controlled not by an on/off key, nor would it be a scripted mechanic that arose only when the story required, but it would be triggered by objects found within the environment that would then allow the player to progress. However, it was important that the story didn’t imply that dwelling on your problems is the solution to them, and that while you have to cooperate with your grief, you must also learn to control it. I therefore decided the game needed to also stop the player from progressing in certain situations when in Grief, in order to show the need to confront it and overcome it. This could be added to the mechanic by finding a quiet place in the environment to gain composure and exit the grief state.