Most tower defense games ask players to destroy or incapacitate inbound mobs in order to save towers, but a new upcoming game demands that players keep the mobs alive in order to win because the tower is actually a slaughterhouse and the mobs are your livestock. In Fat Chicken, you play a factory farm manager and your job is to keep all your cows, chickens, and pigs fat and full of antibiotics.
I recently met with current serious game certificate student and studio director at Relevant Games, Joshua Mills, to discuss the behind the scenes and inner workings of Fat Chicken. At Relevant Games, the goal is to take a topic and create fun, engaging games. “In Fat Chicken,” Mills says, “we have this happy, cute world but the premise is hormones, antibiotics—you’re doing this horrible thing to them.” It’s through that juxtaposition that satire is successfully used to engage in the issue. The game itself concentrates on the three main viewpoints of factory farming, from the extreme—meat is murder—to the business side of it—there’s a demand, we need it—to the inhumanity of the practice.
Mills sees the game as a way to view an issue in a different light and consider what comes and goes on dinner tables. “Maybe I should know a little more about what I’m eating and where it comes from. Is there a way to meet demand and treat animals humanely if consumers as whole will demand that?” These are some of the questions Mills hopes players will ask themselves, confident that intrinsic motivations will touch the conscience of a larger audience than traditional media outlets alone.
“Draggers. If an animal dies close to the slaughterhouse, someone comes out and brings it in. Draggers are a real thing. We didn’t make that up.”
As he finishes the serious game certificate, Mills recalls some of the benefits he gained throughout the program as he simultaneously ran Relevant Games. “I’ve been doing the program alongside starting this venture with the company, and it’s been a huge advantage to have people who you can bounce ideas off of, who break down the serious aspects of games,” he says. “You have a group of people with such different views and perspectives; it just helps me see as a designer all the different facets of an issue. I can’t tell you how important it’s been ‘cause without the class conversations, I don’t know how we would have made this game.”
Despite the fact that Mills thought a fully online serious games certificate would mean that he would be learning in isolation, Mills discovered that it was much the opposite. He has had the ability to have discussions around, not just the class content and projects, but other people’s opinions on theories about games. Learning how to implement theory into serious games and being able to explore issues helped Mills in the design of Relevant Game’s newest creation.
“In Fat Chicken, you’re deciding to inject cows with hormones. Right or wrong, you’re doing it. Maybe shooting corn into an animal’s mouth is not the best way to feed it.”
Thinking about future serious game students, Mills ended with “All I can say is don’t be afraid to push your work in the direction you think it should be, not where it is. Don’t limit your thinking to what exists but at the same time, take from the ideas of others to inform new ideas.”
Fat Chicken will appear alongside the other peer-review-selected games at the Meaningful Play 2014 Conference, October 16th to 18th.
For more information on either the fully online or in-person serious game design graduate program, visit http://seriousgames.msu.edu/ma-certificate. The deadline to complete applications for Spring semester 2015 is approaching fast—November 15th!