Machine Heart — Devlog 1

Designing a personal game about my relationship with self harm and suicide

Presentation slides available here:

DevLog 1: Introduction

First off, I guess I should introduce myself in case you’ve found yourself here unexpectedly:

Hi, my name is Anth Rodi. I’m a designer and independent game developer currently in my fourth year of the Digital Futures program at OCAD University. For the next little while, I‘ll be using this space to document the progress of my undergraduate thesis project.

The focus of my thesis research really centers around this connection between the personal and the digital. More specifically, I’m interested in how we (game designers, artists, makers, developers, and others) can translate our lived experiences into evocative game mechanics.

When I look back, it seems like I’ve always been interested in personal narrative. My first game prototype was a semi-autobiographical game about being in a long distance relationship. In another, you play as a lonely moon lost in space without a planet to call home (inspired by the years in my life where my parents lived abroad).

Realizing this has made me really want to dig deeper into the “bleed” between the game maker’s lived experience and the design process. How do game makers embed pieces of themselves into their games? And how can these experiences we all have be used as a tool to make new and compelling design decisions?


My research to date has been influenced by three key areas: Personal Games, Death Positivity, and Emotional Game Design.

Personal Games

Indie games like Jenny Jiao Hsia’s Consume Me (2016) are investigating the personal in new and innovate ways. These games engage with difficult, mundane, and personal subjects in meaningful ways that the ‘AAA’ industry largely deems too risky to explore.

Consume Me by Jenny Jiao Hsia

Death Positivity

Independent game developer Gabby DaRienzo has been a key voice in the industry addressing the ways games both fail and succeed in creating open and healthy conversations surrounding death. In her Playdead Podcast, DaRienzo features developers, like Kara Stone (creator of Ritual of the Moon), who are exploring atypical death mechanics in games.

Ritual of the Moon by Kara Stone

Emotional Game Design

Journey (2012) game developers thatgamecompany have been vocal about their emotion-first approach to the design of their games. Prominent games scholars like Katherine Isbister, and Mary Flanagan have analyzed the ways games create emotion within the player, and how game designers embed values in technology to create evocative and transformative games.

Journey by thatgamecompany


For the first steps of my project I have been conducting autoethnographic research that I will use to inform the mechanical design of my game. As a part of my research I wrote six short stories surrounding my relationship with self harm and suicide at different points in my life. I will be analyzing these short stories and distilling meaningful themes or emotions that come out of them. I’ve also been creating mood boards and early concept art to start thinking about the art style of the game, the sound design, and the themes and moods I want to explore and evoke in the game.

First mood board and concepts

Next Steps

My focus for the next sprint of the game’s development is to storyboard the interactions the player will make, and use Mary Flanagan’s Grow Game to paper prototype my value led game mechanics.

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