Lawyers are trained to over think things to the point of taking the fun out of them. I’ve learned I am no exception. This was one of the first obstacles in the process of creating a game for legal services.
The game design document, the blueprint for the actual game, is almost finished. We will take this doc to the developers and rest of the team necessary for the next steps in production. Getting the theme nailed down was the first step in the process. The second was to present legal consequences in a way that is humorous and instructs through problem solving.
I provided my game designer with a variety of different legal scenarios related to estate planning and administration. I have practiced estate planning for ten years and had done estate administration before going into solo practice. I have seen the damage done to families and loved ones when they fail to handle their estate planning. Many Americans should have their wills and medical directives drafted, but most do not know that they need these documents in the first place or the value that they have to protect their families.
We are dealing with a depressing topic that not many people are eager to discuss. Who wants to think about their eventual demise? How do you make that fun? We are going to try humor.
I tried to analyze all of the potential ways the player could solve the legal issues that were being presented in the game. This is where my training threatened to take the fun out. This is part of the reason I wanted my team to be made up of individuals from the game industry who do not have a legal background. One lawyer throwing cold water on the production is enough.
Of course the necessary disclaimers will be slapped on the final product to provide notice that we are not providing legal services and so that no one will assume that the solutions in the game play are the actual solutions the player should take in real life. We are trying to reach players on an emotional level to engage in thinking about estate planning and, through sharing components in the game play, engage in a dialogue with their friends and family about it as well.
My game designer has her own analysis of the mechanics of the game play that she must work through. That type of over thinking through the process is practical. My analysis as a lawyer needed to stop at a certain point in order for us to proceed with making a good game. In fact, the deeper we went into the “but if this, then that” or “but also this is a possibility”, the closer the game got to becoming a traditional, educational legal game. This game is intended to be broad in scope and to provide basic legal education. The game rewards the player with access to real-world legal services if they choose them and at that point the player can seek assistance that goes deeper into their personal legal needs.
Then came another issue in the game design when we thought about levels and rewards. How do you rank or assign points to personal choices? How do you place values on choices in game play that result in a reward when the choices made in solving the problem are based on the personal values and priorities of the player? One potential good solution to a legal problem may not be a priority to another player based on personal preferences or individual circumstances.
In fact, trying to prioritize choices and ranking them based on potential legal outcomes might have pushed us away from a few genres of games and into certain others, such as card games or simulations. We knew this was not where we wanted to go based on some of the creative themes the designer had originally pitched to me that sounded more fun.
Don’t get me wrong. Complexity in games is a good thing. For the players who want that extra layer, it is what keeps them playing. But at some point, if a game is too much work and challenge, even with a reward that is desired, the player will not be engaged. It’s a fine balance to reach that state of flow. There are too many nuances in estate planning based on personal circumstances that make it necessary to draw the line at some point.
I am anxious to get back the final design document to see the game mechanics based on the scenarios I presented. But as we move forward with production, I’ve got to remember two things: 1) don’t over analyze the game play with a lawyer’s eyes, and 2) remember who the target players of the game are (not lawyers) and why they would want to play it in the first place. If we remove the fun, we take away the potential for the player to engage with the content on a level that is effective at teaching them the legal issues at stake. In this instance, fun is the conduit of access.