Empathy Through
Narrative-Based Roleplay

Though effective newsgames are generally considered to portray systems as opposed to just a ‘good story’, the two are indespensible from one another, and thus rely on cues within the gameplay to contextualise the player and distinguish the game from regular entertainment. The degree of transparency of these cues would depend on the author’s aims. In Frankenbike’s case, it was identified that the barrier to an involved engagement with the issues share bikes raised in Sydney was a lack of emotional connection to the bikes themselves–their public image remains in the domain of meme and fad– hence, its narrative-based approach.

Early play-testing of pre-existing newsgames such as Wired Magazine’s  Cutthroat Capitalism and Chris Baker, Brian Moore and Mike Lacher’s The Voter Suppression Trail unveiled the importance of contextualising the game and giving players a distinct goal to work with.

In comparison, an older prototype of Frankenbike uses stats-based gameplay modelled after Cutthroat Capitalism to critique the influx of share bike operators in Sydney, but also simluate the balancing act operators had to manage in dealing with the repurcussions of their business model. While user-testers found the humour engaging, the instruction-based, linear gameplay felt restrictive, and made it difficult for them to relate to the issues at hand.
Frankenbike expands upon my previous experiments in roleplay by immersing the player into a simulation of an urban ecosystem impacted by share bikes. In this alternate version of Sydney,
the regulatory character makes another appearance, this time as a city ranger. Roleplaying a position of power frees the user to navigate the system from a more omniscient perspective and explore the relationship dynamics at hand. This way, the game is able to authentically introduce its ideas about civic responsibility, bureaucratic red tape, and the general frustrations in dealing with the share bike ‘invasion’.    

Frankenbike consists of a series of narratives, interactions, and easter eggs interwoven
with significant sites in the share bike news timeline. The overarching quest
to rebuild Bikey the Share Bike acts as a catalyst and motivator to move between them.