“What are the consequential choices that people face that a player could get and understand and get them to think about in their own lives or question their own experiences or those of their elders,” she says. There’s been a lot of thought and conversation among the developers about these general themes, like opportunity and advancement, versus staying rooted in the community.
Another framework the game’s development team wanted to focus on was the illusion of choice – where the game, much like reality, doesn’t always factor in the player’s motivation for the decisions they make. It’s a concept that sometimes frustrates gamers, given that games are such an interactive medium, but in Dot’s housenot having all the “right” choices in front of you was exactly the point.
As with all video games, “someone else designed the system without your input. Someone else created the system for you, and you play it, and whatever result you get, that’s what you get, which is a lot like the American housing system,” says Rosales.
Luisa Dantas, Project Director at Rise-Home Stories, discussed gaming at SXSW this year, in a panel that discussed how games and gaming technology can be a tool to address structural inequality. Dantas said the game’s audience should be made up of black and brown people because housing inequalities affect them the most.
Given this target audience, Dantas understood that these players start the game knowing that the system is rigged and they are playing with a limited and hindered set of choices. These narrative decisions reflect the systemic inequalities in place that limit access to safe and affordable housing for all but the wealthiest people in many communities. In addition to these limited choices, players must consider how their choices impact their neighborhood and not just focus on Dot and her family’s needs.
“There’s also a direct rebuke to this idea of this kind of toxic meritocracy,” Dantas says. “This individualistic idea that everything depends on your personal responsibility and your personal choices. And if you just made all the right choices, x, y, and z would happen. In the game, as in real life, sometimes you can do everything “right”, and the community is no better, because so many factors are beyond your control or influence.
Rosales describes Dot’s house as a “values-driven game”.