A satirical game about genetic engineering
As we are about to launch our game, Eugenics, on the Steam platform, we have been asked a few questions, legitimate questions when the game intends to deal with a serious topic: the manipulation of the genome and its corollary, the notion of eugenics.
In choosing such a theme, we are not actually referring to dark periods of the past. It is indeed the present that inspired the main topic of our game. A very recent article in the Technology Review reveals that Chinese researchers are indeed working to create the first genetically modified children. The stated objective for these "GMO babies" is to prevent disease like AIDS by manipulating the genome. In 2015, The Economist, already proposed a complete dossier on a new genetic engineering technique, called CRISPR. Since then, many publications, both scientific and mainstream, have devoted articles to this technology. The cover of the famous british weekly newspaper is soberly titled "Editing Humanity" and an image depicts a young child playing. Everything seems normal.... Except that all his capacities have been upgraded : the child will not be affected by baldness, his IQ is above average, as well as his physical capacities...
With its headline and its dossier, The Economist presents in a clear and distinct way the political and moral stakes of such a technology, its unknowns - what happens when an error in the genetic code affects an entire line of individuals? - but above all, shows that reality has now surpassed some novels or anticipation movies. Genetic engineering and CRISPR technology in particular are whetting the appetites of multinationals interested in patenting some potentially lucrative discoveries. Finally, the most problematic aspect is the potential market. What to do when this kind of technology will be available for a few euros? Will parents not be tempted to genetically modify their children, in the name of their "good"?
These reflections are the starting point of our game: let's anticipate a little, let's pretend that the player has the demiurgic power to edit the genome, in a completely banal way. The ultimate objective is to show that video games, as a medium, can address fundamental social themes and issues.
Some commercial titles such as Papers, please, where we play a customs officer in a dystopian world, have paved the way for more mature video games. The Molle Industria collective, well known for its videogame parody of McDonald's restaurant, is also a reference of games with content. And so few games for the general public have taken up the theme of genetic engineering, let us mention the notable exception of the Bioshock series, where the subject plays as important part of the story.
Colour of dystopia
In Eugenics, we wanted to compensate the seriousness of the topic with some absurd and black humour. In this sense, our game is influenced by novels such as Brave New Word, but also by the Monty Python and Dr. Strangelove, our main reference. Kubrick managed, in an eminently tense context, to propose an ironic fable about the absurdity of the arms race when his film was released in the 1960s. While highly successful series like Black Mirror have breathed new life into science fiction and social anticipation, they sometimes borrow too easily from a dark universe. We wanted to do a kind of pop dystopia. In Eugenics, the genes that the player can activate will of course be very parodic and do not correspond to a scientific reality: socialist or capitalist gene, unicorn gene... We want to make games, not serious games. The pleasure of the gameplay is just as important as the subject, and finding the right balance will be our challenge.
Some scientific animation series, such as Kurzgesagt, have shown that it is possible to reach millions of people with fun and informative content. The collective's video about designer babies is a model of its kind. We will try to do the same with Eugenics, in a more interactive way. We are sure that this vision of the video game medium corresponds to a reality of what players are looking for: games that are not only entertainment.
Finally, we want the gameplay of the game to be both simple to understand but difficult to master. We also want to introduce a mechanism of experimentation and discovery: first, the player will have to acquire knowledge of the genome. As in the scientific method, he proceeds by trial and error. He activates a gene, notices the consequences on the new character created, which allows him to gradually guess the correspondence between each characteristic and gene. The player can then choose what type of society he wants to create: bi-coloured chimeras, an hypercapitalist society, a society where artists have taken power? Anything is possible.
In addition to these systemic mechanics, there are also narrative elements. In Papers Please, the player, in addition to his daily daunting task, also has to deal with personal issues. We hope to give the player the same dilemmas with Eugenics.