Lily is Dead: Writ 105M Final Essay
The game is set in the main character’s childhood hometown. The main character, Alex, hasn’t visited it in years and has only come back to the town as a way to reconnect with her roots and take a break after graduating from college. The setting is a mixture of both familiarity and the unknown. I describe her house as unchanging and one of the first conversations that the main character has is with her childhood friend that she hasn’t seen in years.
The familiar and comforting tone, combined with the aesthetically laid out font and colors is made to put that player at ease. However, I build up a low level of unease almost immediately by depicting her kindly father, who is helping her move into the house, as unusually quiet. The player and the main character are in the same shoes at this point. Alex is comforted by the memories of her childhood home and seeing her long-time friend and the player is lulled into a false sense of comfort. But in the back of our minds, there is also a layer of intrigue that is being built. This is brought to a head when the player goes to the main town and runs into her childhood friend. During this interaction, they see a missing child’s report. No matter which outcome is chosen after this scene Alex will note the girl’s name and face, an important detail for later. The next morning while on a morning walk Alex notices a younger girl in the trees behind her. Most audience members will have made the connection that this girl is the one from the missing poster but Alex lags a bit behind and calls out to the girl.
Whether the player chooses to help the girl or not the main character will be guided into a conversation that reveals part of how the girl used to live before her untimely demise. This conversation means to portray the girl as sympathetic and pitiful, especially towards the people who chose to not help the girl, as well as begin to poke holes in how she describes her life when she was alive.
Finally, after the last conversation with Sadie, who was the young girl’s “close friend” the entire facade of Lily’s cheerful and happy life is broken. We learn that in reality Lily was a lonely girl, with very little friends and had been bullied by some of her classmates. It turns out that Lily had been listening to the conversation the entire time and she breaks down, confessing that she had actually taken her life under the pressures of her classmates and the lack of a support group.
Creation of the Game:
Going into creating this game I was never into playing games, especially interactive story-based games like the ones that Twine hosts. However, I fell in love with the format and the story-telling potential after playing Hana Feels. I knew that I wanted my game to look as polished as Hana Feels did, however I was operating on a smaller time frame and had zero coding experience before coming into this class. I first started by brainstorming my game and creating an outline for the story. Because I was so inexperienced with this format of interactive, choice-based games I decided to consult Storyplaying: Agency and Narrative in Video Games by Sebastian Domsch. This book provided valuable insight into how choices should be integrated into games. As Michael Allingham states choices “arise from both the heart and the head” where the head provides the reason and the heart provides the passion. This simple quote changed how I presented my choices in the game. When presenting my choices, especially if I wanted it to be difficult I tried to have an appeal to both emotion and reason. For example, when Lily, the dead little girl, asked for our help the appeal to emotion was her innocence and the desire to help young children. However, the appeal to reason was the fact that our main character was a woman, someone who hasn’t been back to town in years and is therefore unfamiliar with the people and structures of town. I also referenced an article by game design lounge which talked about how to approach writing in games based on choices.
Next, I dived into the many forums that Twine users inhabit in order to work on the presentation of my game. After consulting many different forums and videos I decided to use Sugarcube instead of the default Harlowe. I decided to go with Sugarcube as the story format because it was the plainest by default and therefore allowed for the most customization. Due to my game’s heavy focus on dialogue I wanted to create custom dialogue boxes that would display the name, a picture, and the dialogue of each character as they were talking. I didn’t want my game to look boring when there were just blocks of dialogue with nothing else breaking it up. After going through many forums and testing the look of different dialogue boxes I ended up going with the methods suggested in a reddit forum. At first, the game wouldn’t display the character photos, then it would only display one photo for every single character. It took a couple of hours of debugging in order to display the photos however I was eventually able to create custom dialogue boxes that would display different pictures and names for each person talking. This involved me creating a different character icon and assigning it a name for every character in the stylesheet.
Finally, I decided to work on the overall color palette and look of the rest of my game. I decided to go with a dark purple for the background, a light creme color for the normal text, and a light blue for the choices. I felt like these colors worked well with each other and also created the feel of a relaxing yet spooky game.
When I first started brainstorming ideas for my game I was unsure of what I wanted to write about exactly. I knew that I wanted my game to grab people’s attention and be engaging and therefore decided to go for a murder mystery type of game. However, as I began writing my game in Twine I stumbled across the idea of a twist on the murder mysterty trope. Instead of a normal whodunnit murder I decided to go with a darker theme and have the death be the tragic suicide of a young girl. This is immediately made to tug on the heartstrings of the players as children, especially younger ones, are the epitome of innocence and their youth makes the tragedy of their death so poignant. They will always symbolize the lost potential of a life ended too soon. I don’t know if I had a specific theme going into writing the game. I wanted to show that things aren’t as they seem, from both sides of the spectrum. Going in, we thought that Lily was a murder victim however she was actually a victim of circumstance, where mental health issues, or loneliness, or some other factor altogether caused her to believe that she should take her own life. And on the other side of the coin, no one believed that Lily was in a place where she would want to kill herself. So firm were they entrenched in this fact that they would rather believe their daughter had been kidnapped.
I originally created my game to have three conversations. The first would be the school librarian and would serve as the beginning crack in the perfect facade that Lily’s life was first described to us as. She would talk about how Lily would often eat lunch with her and was often alone. The second conversation was meant to be with Lily’s mother. She would talk about Lily as sociable, smart, and the “perfect daughter”. This conversation would begin to hint at the pressures that Lily was facing both at home and at school. In addition, it would start to show how disconnected Lily and her mother were. I wanted to convey the subtle pressure that expectations can have on a young child. There are many true stories that talk about how parental pressures can be the main cause of their depression, While this conversation ended up being cut from my actual game due to time constraints during development I still think of it as an important part of the story. The third and final conversation featured Lily’s “close friend” Sadie who finally pulled back the curtains and revealed the truth behind Lily’s life, talking about how she had no friends and didn’t talk to anyone during the school day. Together these conversations were the clues needed to solve the “mystery” of her death.