The events that take place during the story of my upcoming game, Teragard, are all inspired by the real-life events that took place in modern-day America between 2016-2018.
When it comes to the characters themselves who inhabit the world of Teragard, the game’s primary themes are shock and powerlessness. These two feelings are largely how the American public has reacted to the election of Donald Trump and the mass corruption that immediately seeped into all the highest levels of our government.
That’s not to say there was no corruption before in American politics (looking at you, Mitch McConell and Paul Ryan, and also at you, DNC), but Trump himself and everyone in his inner circle of supporters were so obviously and unbelievably corrupt that the issue has become more noticeable than ever.
Teragard is a pretty standard fantasy RPG, and with a setting like that, writers have limitless options for what kinds of events they want to take place in that world. When magic literally exists in the game’s world, and you know the player will go along with it because they’ve played other video games before, and seen a movie or two, you can just use your imagination like crazy, and the more imaginative that your stories are, it’s usually for the better.
So, why would I base this game’s story around the atrocities happening in America, and the painful reactions that people have had in response? There are two big reasons.
1. “Based on a true story”
I love to read, but I rarely ever read fiction. I almost exclusively read non-fiction, with some of my favorites being autobiographies and personal histories. I also read the news a lot, which could be described as the non-fiction version of a short story. When I was in college and getting a degree in journalism as well as a degree in film, I noticed that, in my creative writing classes, I did best when I would decide to write my assignments (screenplays and such) based on true stories. I also really enjoyed the times when I had documentary assignments, because those have to be true stories in order to work. And all my life, I always got a little excited when I would see the trailer for a movie and see the phrase “based on a true story” come up. Unlike documentaries and (hopefully) the news, movies are total lies and will be embellished to the point of being totally unlike the actual events– but I still think it’s cool when I see that “based on a true story” line. All my life, I have always had a stronger reaction to, and been more profoundly impacted by, true stories. It’s almost impossible to truly relate to a fictional character, because that’s a made-up person in a made-up world taking actions in made-up situations. But when I hear about something challenging that an actual person overcame in real life, that story will stick with me for much longer.
All that said, Teragard is definitely still a work of fiction. There are many characters and events inspired by real-world people and challenges, but there are a lot of creative liberties that had to be taken in order to “assemble” the game. And at the end of the day, it is just a game.
Something I was very careful about while writing Teragard’s script was making it too heavy-handed. One way that I could easily avoid that problem was simply because of the subject matter I was pulling from– for example, everyone knows Donald Trump is racist. He made racist statements in his initial campaign announcement, and has said racist things many times, on camera, both before his campaign, and since becoming president. We’re all in agreement on that. A lot of the issues that Teragard explores are pretty basic black-and-white moral/immoral issues. It’s not too challenging to know what’s morally wrong in America right now, and that corrupt government officials need to start being held accountable. And I think it’s very important that Teragard is considerably less radical than the very traditional “rebels versus the empire” story that we see over and over in the fantasy and sci-fi genre.
The only people I can think of who would actually get angry that I wrote the story of this game, or included the events and characters that I did, are the neo-nazis and white supremacists that have been dramatically empowered by the current changes taking place in America. If those kinds of people end up discovering the game and try to do some kind of smear campaign against it (I’m imagining them labeling it as a “sjw game for snowflakes that hate America”), all I can say is that any publicity is good publicity. But really, I’m honestly not expecting Teragard to cause much of a splash.
2. How do you make a difference?
When Trump got elected, I had already begun working on Teragard. In fact, it could be said that I had started working on Teragard about 10 years ago, and am only now just completing the project, but that’s the subject of another article.
When I started writing the story, it was an extremely generic fantasy world. I used a self-made fantasy quest generator (because I’m a nerdy programmer) to help myself get started with some sample adventures that would be suitable for my game’s world.
But when Trump got elected, I had the same thought that I’m sure many scared Americans had: “What can I do make a difference?” Other than voting, because that’s the obvious one. And then I realized, “Oh yeah, I make video games and I have a platform.” I realized that I could make Teragard go from being forgettable JRPG tripe to being something more impactful, memorable, and meaningful, by connecting the game’s various storylines to the things actually happening in America, and portraying in my fictional characters the feelings of hopelessness and despair that have naturally been attached to the real-world events.
One of the few ways I realized I could potentially make a difference in the face of everything that has happened (and is very much still happening) was by creating engaging art.
I also thought about my first game, Sojourner, and how that game had a painfully generic and barebones fantasy plot, but was elevated by its commitment to positive mental health, encouraging players to have uplifting conversations with those around them, and seeing the best in ourselves and others. It absolutely made sense that my second game would examine the other side of that coin, the crushing anxieties we face, the negative emotions that we all have to deal with, and what better way to explore those kinds of serious things than by connecting them to the actual events happening today that make us feel that way?
How does this story actually help people?
I was aware as I was writing Teragard that some people might get upset or frustrated by the game’s story, to the point of quickly losing interest or not wanting to play it all. The world is beyond frustrating already when you read a news article about immigrant children being stolen from their parents, and then put on trial by themselves, some of whom are dying in the “care” of the government employees running the prisons these children are being kept in while they wait to learn of their fate.
Playing games is often a form of positive, healthy escape from a dangerous, difficult real world. So why would someone want to play a game that dares to examine the same things that frustrate them?
So many of us, myself included, feel really powerless in the face of all the horrible things that are happening. With this game, I could put the player into the shoes of a hero who will save all these people, right all the wrongs, and bring everything back to normal, and make things better than before.
The reality is, anyone can be a hero. And this is a video game that shows that you, yes, you, can take action and use your voice during these dark days to make a difference in the world. If a single person feels empowered while playing this game, I’ll have succeeded in my mission and fulfilled the game’s reason for existing.