For a class project in Computer as an Expressive Medium course, students were asked to select a story, examine it with a critical lens, then create an interactive narrative using critical making practices. The entire project would be completed using Twine. I selected the article, “What Happened After My 13-Year-Old Son Joined the Alt-Right” published in The Washingtonian in May 2019.
In the article, a mother explains how her son, Sam, was groomed to join the Alt-Right through Reddit, and her reaction to his newfound beliefs. While I greatly empathized with Sam’s trajectory, I couldn’t help but how lucky Sam was. His parents were educated, white, and upper-middle class. They had the time and resources to transfer him to a private school to make new friends, offered hiking and rock-climbing trips to destress, and were gentle enough to listen to his changing beliefs without judgment. The combination of privileges, I believe, created an empathic and patient atmosphere which allowed Sam to go through this phase at his own pace and express his beliefs to his family. This combination is what ultimately led him to leave the ALT-Right
For his project, I wanted to reimagine this story if Sam’s family did not come from a place of privilege. What if Sam still faced a traumatic experience, but instead of a patient and accepting atmosphere, he was met with realities that other low-income families face: scarcity. Choosing between food and rent. Choosing to treat a physically ill child vs a depressed child. What if Sam’s parents – or parent – did not have access to money, time, or empathy to help him find the “light” at the end of the tunnel. The family has the same amount of care and love for Sam, but do not have the resources to help as they would like. What would then happen to Sam?
To show this scarcity in the game through a timer & bank account. I envision the player acting as the parent who has to make daily decisions with a timer. To add to the stress, I’d like to include a bank account where they have to pick how to allocate their time and money. Further, I’d like to show the miscommunication between parent & Sam by having blocks of Sam’s text in black. To illustrate that even when parents are there to help, they cannot fully understand the situation and still have to make decisions. This further pushes the gap between parent & child.
I altered the story to focus on a single-parent family, where the mother is extremely limited by time and funds to help her kids. While she understands her son, Sam is experiencing depression due to a traumatic incident at school, she is limited in her abilities to help. Further, I wanted to show how people think and feel about situations versus what they say and do in reality.
The game begins from the mother’s perspective. The player can choose how to help Sam, and what to say to Sam. The player’s actions impact the mother’s bank account and emotional energy, which affects what is possible in the future. Towards the end of the game, the perspective changes to Sam. Sam remembers past events and responds/retaliates according to his built anger level.
Once the plot and dialogue was completed, I added visual & audio elements to add to the ambiance of the story. The background color & audio change, depending on character’s perspective. Below are a few screenshots from the game.
The interactive narrative has several endings, depending on how you navigate conversations throughout the game. Experience it yourself by clicking on “Run Game.”