The tragic and unfair plight of the working class (and lemmings!)

At its heart, Lemmings is a pretty straightforward game. You have a pack of Lemmings stereotypical in all aspects except appearance, and you must allocate skills among the members to get the majority of the pack to the exit. At the moment, if one wanted to assign themes to the gameplay of Lemmings, the most obvious would be those of teamwork and self-sacrifice. Through specialization and role assignment the pack of lemmings can work together to reach an exit impossible to reach otherwise. However, certain skills require the assigned lemming to give up his dream of reaching the exit, either because the skill was self-destructive (for example the “exploding” skill) or because it will place him outside of the reach of the exit (the lemming that blocks the others from a death trap can no longer move, and therefore must die once the rest of the pack is safe.)

Neither of these themes fit well into a scenario regarding economic inequality and homelessness. More appropriate themes would involve competition and acquisition of property, so our first step was to mod the game into a multiplayer; each player controlled a single lemming (palette-swapped from his opponents) in a given map and fought over control (exactly how was yet to be determined). The skill system would have to be adapted since lemmings would be less sacrificial; now when a player clicked on a skill his lemming would instantly attempt to perform that skill, and cease performing it when the player de-selected the skill or the skill became impossible to continue (for example “digging” once the lemming has completely dug through a platform). The “miner” skill would be converted to an “attack” (a successful attack kills an enemy lemming) and “block” would become a way to become immune to “attack.”

To maintain the same sprites as the original and follow the theme of housing, we chose the territorial control to be “capture point” based; there would be bases scattered throughout the map (indicated by “exits” from the original game) and they could be claimed by walking through them. The challenge would be to reach the point while preventing others from reclaiming it once it became yours. Every ten seconds every player would gain points equal to the number of bases they own. If a player’s lemming dies for any reason it could respawn at any base controlled by its player (or in the fringes of the map if none are controlled.) Once the timer runs out, the player with the most points is the winner.

The backstory would be almost as simple as Lemmings: the previous owners of the homes were evicted, and the players are rushing to claim the land “homestead run” style. The race to control land is indicative of a game of Monopoly, with all of the drawbacks of a slow start. The point multiplier for players who can keep control of multiple bases (as well as the freedom to choose where to spawn) means that a strong start can be difficult to catch up to. On the other hand an early unexpected setback can create an uphill battle just to catch up with your opponents. This is true for wealth redistribution in real life. Also note that the original owners of the homes are incapable of regaining them, as is usually the case in our modern system of debts and property ownership.


Bomb The Man

            For our gaming assignment, our group was given the game, “Bomberman”. The issue that we chose covered the topic of power and democracy, and focuses on the scenario that the government has passed a law that makes protest illegal. We thought this could flow naturally within the game, given the fact that bombs can easily represent violence and police/rebellion conflict within a city environment. We wanted to illustrate the importance of freedom of protest and speech, and justice for the oppressed.

            The player controls the “monsters” who represent the protestors within a totalitarian regime. The “Bomberman” then becomes a representation of the police who are trying to bomb the protestors into submission. The goal of the game as a protestor is to attempt to make the police bomb their own institutions, comprising of a bank (moneybag icon), a police station (police car), and a courthouse (door icon). Destroying these icons represents protestors changing systems of government by destroying the current hegemonic structure.

            Level one starts out with one of each of these institutions (total of three). The police follow the player around in a constant attempt to bomb them and end their rebellion, so the player must evade the police while also tricking them into placing a bomb near enough to one of their institutions that it will be destroyed. The player moves onto the next level when she or he is successful in destroying all institutions. Each level rises in difficulty with an exponential increase both in institutions and police the further the player gets into the game. The player will lose the game if she or he fails to evade a bomb and gets blown up.

            Our group decided to make the game infinite, with each level adding in difficulty until the player gets tired or loses. We did this because we wanted to address the difficulty in changing societal institutions and systems of government; the harder one fights, the more one realizes how hopeless that fight feels against the power of a hegemonic society. Our goal was to create that sense of frustration by making it so the player could never truly “win”.

            This game could be both single player and multiplayer. Multiplayer mode has the same rules, and would only add more “protestors” working together to help the cause of overthrowing corrupt systems of power. 

-Katie Morris

Pac-Man (Om Nom Nom)

We chose to mod Pac-Man around the issue of economic inequality/equality with a focus on homelessness, poverty, and right to housing. Pac-Man represents a kind of philanthropist/non-profit employee working to gain government housing for people who are struggling with rent. He has a group of four people, who are the ghosts, who will soon be evicted from their homes because the rent has become too high. The goal of our game is to demonstrate how difficult it is to provide impoverished people with appropriate housing because government funds are insufficient.

In our mod, Pac-Man is the good guy trying to save the ghosts, who are the people about to be evicted from their homes. The goal of the game is to provide these people with the resources necessary to get back into their homes or move into cheaper housing. The dots that Pac-Man eats are now dollar bills, representing the funding needed. There is only one big dot that is now a big bag of money, which represents government housing/funding. If Pac-Man can reach this big bag of money, he can more easily save a person (ghost). The catch is that there is only bag of money, and it constantly moves around the map, almost as if it is trying to escape Pac-Man. This illustrates the difficulties in receiving government funding in the form of cheap housing because there is not enough of it available. If Pac-Man does manage to snatch up this bag of money, a timer with 15 seconds will appear above the map. He will have this allotted time to go and get a person (ghost), which has turned blue. If he can get one or more ghosts, they will be put into the box in the middle of the map, meaning they have received housing and will not be homeless. The box is the best place to be for the ghost and after they have go in they do not come out. Also, our game is designed that the when the ghost gets into the box, an image of a human replaces the ghost’s image. This is a metaphor depicting the societal norm to view homeless people as invisible. Once a person has a place of residence, it is much easier to become a part of society.

Most likely Pac-Man will not be able to reach a bag of money, so the goal will be to get all of the dots, which will be transformed into dollar bills. This is money collected on one’s own without the help of the government. Pac-Man must collect all of the dots on the map, which has become larger. There is a five-minute timer for the entire game on the top of the page. Pac-Man must house all four ghosts in those five minutes or the game is over and the ghosts fade away.

Our proposed solution to this housing problem is to have more big dots on the map that do not move. In real world terms, this means that there needs to be more government housing available for those struggling to make end’s meet. 

– Laura Vogel


Space Invaders

For our space invaders mod, we decided to turn the advancing aliens into protesters interspersed with bystanders. The turret becomes a police from which the player character controls. We chose the scenario where protesting has been outlawed, so the player character is tasked with shooting stun rounds at the protesters. If the player hits all the protesters before the next wave comes in, the game ends with a win scenario where the player is told they have helped keep a tyrannical government in control. However if the player hits a bystander, a new wave of protesters immediately comes in. If the protesters overrun the player, the game ends with the message that the dictatorship has been overthrown and that the people have taken power and formed a democracy.

-Michael Dzwoniarek

Super Lehman Bros.

In our mod of Super Mario Bros. Mario dons a top hat and a monocle and assumes the role of a big investment banker, whose primary goal is to make a profit by any means necessary.  We chose to alter the primary objective of the original game, shifting the focus away from pure platforming and instead requiring the player to complete a level with a certain amount of coins.  This represents the profit margins Mario must present to the board of trustees, but the player is actively encouraged to collect as many coins as possible, as Mario is rewarded with an “annual bonus” (in the form of an extra life) for every 50 coins collected past the required amount.  In order to collect coins Mario must jump underneath question mark blocks, which in this mod are redesigned as small houses.  Upon hitting the house blocks the words “FORECLOSURE” appear above the house, the lights in the house go dim, and Mario collects a coin.  Foreclosing on houses can result in powerups as well, such as a “government bailout” (whose sprite is a big bag of money, monopoly style), which temporarily renders Mario “too big to fail” and invincible for a short period of time.

Mario’s search for coins throughout the level however is hindered by a government oversight committee, who is responsible for investigating Mario’s questionable banking practices.  Starting on the left side of the level, the sprite for the oversight committee slowly proceeds to the right, and if at any point and time it catches up to Mario, the player loses a life and has to start at the last save point.  In this way the player is forced to make choices between searching for additional or hidden coins and running with the coins they have to escape the committee.  Further complicating Banker Mario’s path is the “Occupy” protesters and homeless people who have been evicted from their homes.  As sprite replacements for the goombas and koopas throughout the level, any contact with these characters will cause the player to lose coins, and if the player reaches zero coins it results in a game over.  The player can choose to quite literally squash the resistance by jumping on them, but this results in outrage over Mario’s strong arm tactics, and increases the speed as which the oversight committee proceeds.  In allowing the player to assume the role of Big Banker Mario, we attempted to address our issue of economic inequality by forcing the player to confront the unethical decisions that are made by big banks and corporations.

top hat mario

Social Rampage

Our group had to attempt to manipulate the classic game “Rampage”. Rampage is originally a game about causing havoc with gigantic monsters. For our scenario we had to work around the idea that “the mainstream media is portraying a minority group as a social disease”. We decided to cast the monsters wrecking havoc in the original game as the minority group who is being treated unfairly. In order to do this we had to reinvent the game in various manners and in its goals.

To begin, we wanted the game to start off with the monsters just sitting peacefully in the city. It’s “ok” if they still have their angry sprite appearances yet we want to show them as beings who don’t really cause any harm to the environment. We then put the player in the role of the mainstream media and we allow them to harass the monsters using foot soldiers and tanks. As the monsters get annoyed and angry they begin to “Rampage” and destroy the buildings. It is at this time that the player has to send in helicopters in order to cover the monster’s destruction. There will be a racism meter chart at the top of the screen which will replace the “score” that was originally there. By filming footage of the monsters rampaging across the city, it will allow the player to eventually use heavy force in order to oust the monsters from the city. The racism meter will go down if you accidentally film yourself harassing the monster with tanks and foot soldiers. The game will be focused around this push/pull system of attempting to fill the racism meter to max while keeping in mind that you are attempting to sway the public over to the mainstream media’s opinion. When the racism meter is filled all the way up, it gives the player a mandate from the public to use excessive force in order to scare/push away the monsters from the cities forever. The goal of the game is not to actually kill the monsters but to cause them to be exiled.

By placing the player in the role of the “bad” guy, our game forces the player to perform unethical decisions in order to get to the end. The monsters in the game are also shown as creatures that the player creates through harassment. It also allows us to show that the mainstream media is a large factor in the way that people perceive certain groups of people.


The Crossing

Our group was assigned to modify the vastly popular game “Frogger.”  We decided to tackle the problem of immigration reform.  We concluded that political rhetoric in America surrounding the subject, namely the use of keywords such as “Alien” and “Illegal Immigrant” shape public consciousness to fear and despise the beneficial and often necessary flow of immigrants into this country.  Thus, our game reversed the typified roles of “bad” and “good” players in the struggle to cross the border by villainizing government agents and utilizing a system of control that places the operators sympathy wholly with the “illegal” immigrants.

In order to achieve our goal, we decided to split up the game into three fluid stages. The first stage places the player in control of a graphic of a mother clutching her newborn child rather than a frog. Instead of dodging cars and trucks on a highway, our game will reveal a desert landscape with drug cartel foot soldiers driving past in black trucks that the player will need to navigate past. There will be marked water canteens spread randomly across the desert floor that the player will need to pick up in order to stave off the slowly draining heat exhaustion and dehydration marked by a thin red bar. The end goal is a fence, that once the player reaches, will pan the screen forward to the next stage while simultaneously darkening the interface signifying nightfall. Due to word count limitations, I will need to stop here. Suffice to say, snakes, scorpions and helicopters are all involved in the later stages.

-Daniel D