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  • Once Upon A Time: Fairy Tales As A Tool For Game Devs

    [03.20.18]
    - Tabea Iseli
  •  Creating a game with a message I can identify with is very important to me. Creating a game is very time consuming, so I want to spend my time on something I'm passionate about. That's why I wanted to work on a project about women in tech and games for some years now. But there was always one question that kept me from starting it: How do I talk about the topic so it's interesting even for people that do not necessary agree with my position?

    After all, that's the goal right? Delivering a message to people that think the same way as I do certainly is reassuring (maybe even for both parties), but it's not very likely to create any change. So if I want to tell people how it is to navigate a tech career as a woman, I have to do it in a way that is compelling to them. This is quite a challenge, as the topic is very controversial and sensitive.

    In a land far, far away...

    When I worked on a concept for a game about migration back in 2014, we decided to make a transition to a fictional world to talk about a topic which is likewise quite delicate. It allowed us to tackle migration without mentioning the local real life situations which are likely to be burdened with stereotypes and political dilemmas. The same applies for the issue I want to be the central theme of my new game AVA. Taking the issue out of the context of the current discussion, away from Harvey Weinstein, away from Nolan Bushnell, away from social justice warriors and into an environment, where people can reflect about the topic without the constraints of prejudice, where it is possible to look at it from a different perspective.

    For AVA I decided to go for one of the most famous ways to change the environment to talk about an issue: Fairy tales. They not only are something most of us know and love from our childhood, but also never seem to grow out of style, even if their stories are extremely old.

    What are fairy tales?

    Even if most of us know tons of fairy tales, one question I started to ask myself when I tried to evaluate if and how fairy tales can help me to establish my message was: "What exactly is a fairy tale?" And to be honest, I still can't answer it. Fairy tales seem to be more ancient than the times they're talking about, and as they used to be oral traditions, it's very hard to trace their origins. Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy was the first one to call them "fairy tales" in the late 17th century, and many after her created categorizations.

    Some of those definitions are rather vague, like for example Bruno Bettelheim's. Bettelheim was a psychologist for children, so his focus was on the effect fairy tales have on children. He put the emphasis for his definition on the happy ending. A lot of myths and fables do not have a happy end. In Bettelheim's words fairy tales need to have a happy ending so a child could live and play through it, knowing that everything will be alright at the end.

    But there are other classifications. Vladimir Propp specifically studied Russian Fairy tales, and discovered 31 elements that appear in fairy tales. These 31 elements describe the function of a story part and usually occur in the same order (though not all of them have to be present, and sometimes some of them switch positions). Propp seemed to be a big fan of empirical investigation, so his categorization is rather analytical and doesn't leave a lot of room for deviations.

    Picking one definition definition and going with that one is quite hard, as the authors of these classifications also wildly disagreed with each others. None the less it's probably save to say that fairy tales often describe fantastic incidents and have returning patterns - that sometimes even span across many different cultures. Both qualities that I think can be very helpful for game developers.

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