My current design for this game has deviated a bit from my proposal, so here’s what I’m currently working with:
NOTE: It may enhance your experience to play The Only Human Defense Force before reading about it.
The player finds themself partaking in a game that appears, for all intents and purposes, to be Space Invaders. They are given basic controls (move left, move right, fire) and told to earn points. Aliens advance down from the top of the screen, firing regularly, while the player shoots them down. There are no barriers to hide behind (mostly because I didn’t have the time to program them). The player has three lives.
The first indication that something is off is the score: the player earns no points for killing an alien. By itself, this might seem like just a glitch.
When the player dies or kills all aliens, they are taken to a GAME OVER screen, with a tally of LIVES LEFT and LIVES LOST. However, these tallies display seemingly impossible numbers: 2 lives left, 55 lives lost, for instance. After a moment of thinking, the player may realize that each dead alien is tallied as a lost life.
In addition, the GAME OVER screen displays a message for the player. In order, depending on how many times the player has reached this screen, these messages are:
WHAT MAKES AN ALIEN?
WHO SHOT FIRST? WHO SHOT LAST?
WHAT IF THEY WERE ONLY DANCING?
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
These messages prompt several realizations. The aliens will try to flee after enough of their number are gunned down, for instance. They only fire as many shots as the player fires, never more. And if the player waits and refuses to kill them, one will eventually fly down to make peaceful contact. After this event, the player earns a single point and is taken to a victory screen that reminds them not to worry too much about earlier failures. After all, they are only human.
It is my hope that this game will inspire players to think about their reasons for responding to situations with aggression and the biases they hold that cause them to do so. Why did they interpret the aliens as aggressive before they had fired a single shot? Why did they not notice that the aliens were only firing in response to their actions? By examining questions such as these, we may be able to break out of real-world cycles of violence with other humans.
Influences include art games like Mike Builds a Shelter, which inspired an exploration of unusual win/loss states, as well as the Extra Credits episode on Missile Command (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQJA5YjvHDU) and every movie ever where humans overreact to peaceful aliens (Avatar, Arrival, etc.), which always make me angrier than they have any right to. Pretty sure Undertale’s use of traditional gaming motifs in a pacifist narrative has gotta be mixed up in there somewhere, too.
I was really challenged in making this game to find the balance between adding enough explicit Meaning™ that the audience would catch on, while not beating them over the head with a preachy hammer of pacifism. I’m not sure yet if I’ve succeeded.
Download the game here: The Only Human Defense Force