But then I was surprised to see some of the other speakers concerned by Storyteller's inclusion of suicide, murder and infidelity. Someone stated that every videogame has a meta-message and suggested my inclusion of these concepts was thoughtless.
It is not surprising then when legislation to ban games happen, if even creators and academics themselves don't think deeply about how their games actually mean.
The format of the conference didn't allow me to reply on the spot, so I will do it here, especially because this superficial analysis of games is pervasive even in game developers. I am also going to ignore that the expression "meta-message" suggests there's a main message to being with and that's already problematic, but that is covered in Conflicts in Game Design.
I totally agree every game has a meta-message that is "read" by players: Games automatically communicate what the creator thinks of his players.
This message is conveyed through what the game asks players to do with their time. If a game maker assumes his players are incompetent, unable to draw conclusions or a cash cow, players will get this kind of messages:
- Your time is worthless: Games that force you to perform repetitive mindless tasks for arbitrary reasons. ie: Most MMOs.
- You can't stand challenge: Games that are too easy for fear of scaring impatient people. ie: Lots of Angry Birds wannabes on iTunes.
- Pay Up or waste time: These games put a (low) price on your time, stealthily try to get you to commit and then ask for a ransom. Usually games with the "Free to Play" model.
- Do as I say because because I know better: Edutainment that presents solutions instead of exploring the problems, like telling players to save water ,usually with text or videos, instead of letting them figure out why it matters. Educational games are often the worst culprits, as most adopted the dictatorial attitude of schools .
When games are designed like this, players will feel mistreated, even if they can't put their finger on where the mistreatment is coming from. Even if the game is fun. And there's no way to disguise, coat or counter it; the game will ooze its creator's opinion of his players anyway.
This invisible message will be part of how she believes the world sees her as a person. She might accept the mistreatment as natural; after all, school and most jobs frequently hammer these demeaning definitions of ourselves in our heads.
So what would be a game with a positive, reinforcing meta-message? Meaning and messages are a complicated thing, but I believe it's enough to stubbornly assume my future players are smart, can draw conclusions, choose if they are interested in playing or not and whose time and attention is valuable. Always. Regardless of what I know of who will end up playing the game.
My Policy for Storyteller
This is how I see my players: smiling as they try clever ways to outsmart the goal of each level, concocting twisted plots and sometimes surprised and delighted by the possibilities the game offers, and then be on their way with a trace of a new storytelling technique in their heads. Some people won't be into the game, and some will think about it for a long time. I wish to provide good value for the former until they decide to move on, and interesting concepts to think about to the latter.
Storyteller will only include levels that I am convinced are the best, no filler. I am willing to end up with a 2 hour game if need be .
I will also assume that whoever plays the game is able to form their own ideas on sordid concepts like suicide, murder and infidelity and how they fit in fiction, like they would if they read Romeo and Juliet or watched a teenage soap opera.
 besides, making a truly good educational game is harder than making just a good game, which is extremely hard on its own, thus my default skepticism.
 Last playtest took 5 hours from start to finish... so I don't think I will end up with a 2 hour game, even if I cut out a massive chunk of what is implemented now.