OBEY is a game I am following very closely, as it is not only highly enjoyable but also terrifying in a way that most games are not. It does not scare you by throwing frightening creatures at you, or isolating you in darkness. It scares you by giving you something very dangerous. And I don’t mean it gives your character something dangerous, it actually gives YOU, the player, something dangerous: power. The goal of this game is to be the one in power, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you control the eponymous gun-turret-Robot. It means you have influence over others, and the game shows you what you can do with that power. It holds a mirror up to your actions, especially when the actions you were committing are committed against you. And when you think about it too hard, it can be scary what you will do with power. And enlightening. So just what exactly happens in this game? I won't do it justice trying to explain it, so here. I'll be lazy and throw up the game's trailer.
I'm terrible at this game. I'm too trusting, I give people too much money when I'm in the Robot. I'm not devious enough to do well at this game. Maybe that's a good thing? Maybe?
I was able to contact the developer of this game, Dan Dez, and asked him a few questions about the game’s creation, the reasoning behind it, and what he has seen thus far in the game’s life.
Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions. My first question is sort of vague, but I’m hoping you will take it and run. When someone clicks on the Story tab of the opening menu, a box of text pops up that offers not your typical story, but an explanation of power, and more importantly, the subversion of power. What prompted you to make the game with the concept as it is now, that of holding power over others and the choice to follow the system and OBEY or subvert the system and revolt?
Well, one thing that keeps hammering me as a human being as I am working is the following question: Is what I am doing worth doing at all? Is making a video game worth the time that it takes to make? When I meditate on the question, the answer I come up with is that the vast majority of games are not worth making: they have either already been made before, and/or are frivolous. Of course this is just in my own opinion, but if I am going to spend several years of my life on something, I want it to have value above entertainment. Games like all art, are forms of communication. The question must follow: As a dev, what are you trying to communicate? The "story" and metaphorical aspects of OBEY are my answer to that question. I think it's time for games to move past just trying to be 'fun'. In this regard, I think calling these things 'games' at all is a limitation. And it's unfortunate, but I think there are very few developers that ask themselves or think about such things. Jason Rohrer, and Brenda Romero are two exceptions I can think of.
Baby bunnies were the most innocent and defenseless creatures I could think of, but it's not important that they are bunnies specifically. Mainly, they are designed to contrast their (apparent) vulnerability with robo's (apparent) invincibility as much as possible. Further, I wanted players who think about what's actually happening in the game to realize that it's pretty horrible to witness innocent creatures hurting each other... in fact, I even considered making them human babies committing atrocities against each other, but it would have been too distracting. Still, the idea is to first cause at least a little bit of shock to see such creatures hurt each other, and then to be unable to draw the distinction between them and human adults: yet here we are, as our countries starve each other with sanctions, bomb each other, steal from each other etc.... and even work to coerce or convince you to join a military or wave a flag to help it all along. People are hoodwinked into taking part in what amounts to a mass scale tribalistic prisoner's dilemmas.
I was in a game once and you logged in to check the server, and one of the players mentioned that the placement of one of the buildings lent itself to a permanent hiding place for bunnies that made it extremely difficult for the robot, and you said you would rotate the building, basically an instant reaction to player feedback. How else has input from the OBEY community helped shape the development of the game?
From the start, I knew this had to be a community centric project simply due to the fact of me being the only developer. I can't even test the gameplay by myself! So I try to make it easy for people to influence the game wherever I can: that started by allowing custom maps, translations, and server settings. But the community has had a ton of influence besides that: the introduction of auto-pay, the power plants and numerous game features in addition to the maps that players have made, and the wiki, which have been huge community contributions. Right now a player is helping me write the leaderboard backend, which we are making open source. OBEY is a social game, and I have always wanted it to belong to it's players.
What other forms of media did you draw/get inspiration from? What books, movies, video games, etc.?
I can't point to other games as inspiration, but I would say a lot of writings on sociology, political science, and philosophy have definitely inspired and educated me to make the game the way it is. The writings of Chomsky, Tolstoy, Dawkins. The work of psychologists Zimbardo and Milgram have influenced my thinking. The work and teachings of sociologist Larry Diamond. 'A Theory of Power' by Jeff Vail was also a direct inspiration in making OBEY the way it is.
The game lends itself very well to zany situations popping up, desperate plans, the dreaded corpse banks. What is the craziest scenario you have seen in a game of OBEY?
I think the craziest thing that happens, and it happens every so often is when the bunnies create situations where they strong-arm and coerce the robot player (who ostensibly has the power, but is actually quite vulnerable if the game state turns chaotic). Where they blackmail the robot into paying them or doing something stupid in exchange for information, or weapons, or for protection from a non-existent danger. Actually, one of my favorite plays was by a player named MaximumPower, where he had a battery near the feedbox and said to the robot "can I have extra money for this battery?" The robot paid him, and then he hid it behind the feedbox (instead of loading it in), to again in a few minutes bring it out again to ask: "Do you pay extra for batteries?" and do the same to be paid once again by milking the same battery over and over. Then, the robot would get subverted and the new robot would be none the wiser. He pulled a ton of payments out of that battery - I think I was the only other player who caught onto the scheme since I was a spectator in that particular match.
Thank you so much for your time, and keep up the good work!
I will! See you in the game.
OBEY is currently in Early Access on Steam here, or you can check out Dez's website for more information.