2008 Life. Love. Game Design Challenge

Can you create a game about teen dating violence, without using violence?


That’s the exceedingly intriguing question asked by JenniferAnn.org, the for the 2008 Life. Love. Game Design Challenge.

JenniferAnn.org is a site set up to raise awareness and provide education about violence in teen relationships, established after the murder of Jennifer Crecente by her highschool boyfriend. They have teamed up with the Gawker Media Group and CMP‘s Simon Carless, to create what would appear to be a very challenging competition.

Unfortunately the compo is limited to entries from the US only, so for readers everywhere else in the world, emmigration is your only option for eligibility. All entries must be in Flash 9, and will be judged in a 60/40 split, for education and entertainment. Our mind boggles at the challenge, creating something entertaining on such a tough subject. The final deadline for entries is April 15th 2008. All the details are here.


  1. essell says:

    “Our mind boggles at the challenge, creating something entertaining on such a tough subject.”

    No ideas spring to mind here, but I think the first step would be to step back from assuming that games have to be “entertaining”, and use “interesting” as the necessary target instead.

  2. Dracko says:

    Games have to be playable. It’s no good being interesting if the experience isn’t a natural one.

  3. Lorc says:


    Imagine a sort of adventure game – that is; based around dialogue trees and inventory/clue management – playing as the victim character in a violent relationship.

    But the goal of the /game/ (as defined by the progression mechanic) is to maintain the status quo rather than to escape it. Leaving the relationship is not presented as an option.

    A horrified observer thing, where playing the game always results in things getting worse. But that’s the only way to progress. Success for the player playing the game, is trauma for the character you play as.

    The idea being that you represent the survivor mindset of a person trapped in an abusive relationship by correlating it to the player’s instinct to progress within a conventional game framework.

    That might be interesting. Though hardly fun.

  4. Mike says:

    “(one) Grand Prize: $1,000
    (two) Runner-Up Prizes: $100 ea.
    (one) Door Prize: $100”

    What’s a ‘Door Prize’?

  5. Will Tomas says:

    It’s edutainment!

  6. John Walker says:

    Perhaps something like The Baron, where you play as the abusing boyfriend, might be innovative and terrifying.

    I mention “entertaining” because they say they’ll be marking on this standard.

  7. Aimless says:

    I’d probably lean towards something akin to Lorc’s idea, albeit more of a dating sim than a point’n’click. The main difference would be that as opposed to the player starting out in a violent relationship they would unwittingly enter one.

    At the outset the game would have a very bubbly aesthetic, all pastel colours, cheery music and smiling suns. When you first meet the guy he would seem really nice, and according to the dialogue choices you make you would earn more or less points. The game would very much be about choice, and the decisions the player makes would be reflected in a diary page that it displayed at the end of each day or stage.

    As the game progresses power would gradually be taken away from the player, the outcome of their choices becoming more and more homogenised. Things would remain very ‘gamey’, but as things move on it becomes near impossible not to earn minus points. Parallel to this the diary pages would begin to allude to violent or abusive acts, with euphemisms beginning to take over and the general tone of writing moving from carefree teenager to more mature, troubled prose.

    The game could culminate in a confrontation with the boyfriend, his character taking something of a Phoenix Wright-esque transformation — in other words we see him for what he truly is, but it’s still displayed in a cartoon fashion. The player’s final dialogue tree contains only one choice — “I’m leaving.” — and after you ‘choose’ it the screen fades to black followed by some suggestive sound effects; the breaking of glass, a splinter of wood, and a heavy thud.

    After a while two lines of text fade into view: ‘Continue’ and ‘Quit’. The first option is greyed out and cannot be selected.

    Upon completion of the above scenario you would unlock a new mode. It would be similar to the above, but the roles would be reversed: you would play as the abusive boyfriend that gradually becomes so trapped by his environment and earlier choices that you are given no way out.

    The basic premise is that of the maintained appearance of a game, but gradually the player’s interactions become ineffectual; control of the situation gives way to slavery, if you will.

    I’m not sure if it would be enjoyable, but I think it could still be considered entertaining so long as the writing was compelling and both roles were represented in a believable manner.

    I’m neither American or a game designer/programmer, but it’s an interesting challenge to entertain anyway. Sorry for going on.

  8. AbyssUK says:

    I had an idea similar to Aimlesses, but instead of being a two part game you choose the starting male/female then as each dicission is made you can see the effect on the other person.

    We could we make an RPS submission, via an American third party and donate the winnings to a charity that deals with the same issues.

    Sadly I don’t know how to program flash, so couldn’t really contribute myself.

  9. James T says:

    Perhaps something like The Baron, where you play as the abusing boyfriend, might be innovative and terrifying.

    I mention “entertaining” because they say they’ll be marking on this standard.

    “When your rage meter is full, press QCF+punch to teach that bitch a lesson!”

  10. Lorc says:

    I imagine that’s precisely why they included the “without using Violence in the game itself” proviso.

  11. Drew Crecente says:

    I’m very impressed with the dialogue about our contest here. A few points:

    * Lorc is correct about our reasons for our “no violent content” proviso.

    * We’ve received several questions about our “US Citizens only” rule – and it is indeed due to issues with the prize money. I’m in the process of determining what option might be available.

    * The “door prize” is my attempt at coming up with a prize that would be randomly given to an eligible entry that hadn’t otherwise won a prize. Just trying to increase the pool of entries (thus increasing the number of folks that are researching Teen Dating Violence, right?).

    Thank you to John Walker for posting this article and also big thanks to all for the insightful comments.

    Once I’ve figured out if we’ll be able to accept “international” entries I’ll be posting on the contest’s forum.

    Thanks again to all of you,
    Drew Crecente
    Director, Jennifer Ann’s Group

  12. Tholal says:

    Very interesting idea. Unfortunately, I’m not proficient in either game or flash programming. I’m more of an armchair designer.

    Playing either the abused or the abuser would seem to be difficult to present without actual violence (also, its important to note that violence can go both ways. Its not always the male who is the agressor, though I’m sure thats the case an overwhelming percentage of the time).

    I would probably approach this from more of a 3rd party perspective. IE, you’re the friend or acquaintance of one or more of the parties involved in the abusive relationship. That way, all of the ugly, violent stuff can occur off-screen. The player might see their friend come to school one day with a black eye or other bruises. Or maybe see their partner verbally or emotionally abusing them during school hours, but the actual infliction of physical pain would never be directly seen by the player. They would see the results, both physical and emotional as their friend’s personality might change as the relationship continues.

    The game itself would be about recognizing the signs, reaching out to your friend to offer support and help, and deciding when other authority figures (teachers, principals, parents, police) should be involved. I dont have a lot of experience in this area (thankfully), but from what I’ve seen and heard, it seems like the impetus to leave an abusive relationship comes mostly from outside sources, especially for younger people who may not have the confidence and self-image to stand up for themselves.

  13. Jen says:

    At the risk of sounding callous in regards to what is probably a very worthy cause: Doesn’t “Fight Teen Dating Violence” sound like an Emo band to you?

  14. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to be “That Guy”, and say that this just seems stupid. The subject’s just boring. Yes, I realize it’s a serious problem, but not one that I’d ever, ever want to play a game about.

    Here’s what I’d do: Make an Elite Beat Agents clone where you have to cheer up Bethany after she gets the shit knocked out of her by Tom (Tom is such a douche). Then, on the final level, you give her the courage to break up with Tom and go off with Stephen, that gangly submissive nerd kid who truly loved ol’ Beth all along.

  15. Darrell says:

    I was thinking about the “violent relationship simulator” type of game too, but one of the judging criteria is replayability. If the point is that there is no escape, there’s no sense in replaying it. And if there is escape, then the player will immediately dump the violent suitor at the first opportunity.

    Even without the “no violence” rule, it’s a tricky design challenge: how to give the player meaningful choices without giving him or her an easy out.

  16. MacBeth says:

    Here’s a suggestion – in my limited experience (a couple of female friends who got sucked in to distinctly sub-optimal relationships) there is (I should say ‘can be’) a very persistent belief that “it will get better” or he can be forgiven or redeemed… a mix of being a martyr and believing in the power of love to overcome…

    Perhaps the replayability could be engineered in by have a ‘scoring’ system described as being based on how successful the player was in achieving this goal of redeeming the guy – the introduction of the game could describe it in these terms and imply it was possible – the twist being that basically you can’t do it, no matter how many times you play again, and that the only ‘successful’ route is to get free.

    If the game were to remember all previous attempts, the feedback could begin with positive ‘Try again, better luck this time!’ messages which gradually change to point out the futility and danger of trying to persist, but only after several failures.

    The danger of course is that someone only plays once or twice and believes the ‘hopeful’ messages…