just some notes.

Writing games with Marx

May 02, 2020

It seems like a right moment to tell you a little bit about the game I’ve been working on with a good friend of mine. The game, of which I won’t share the title yet, is currently very much in the conceptualization-, yet somewhat out of conceptualization phase. That is to say, I think we’ve got a good handle on what we’re trying to create, but we haven’t set any of it in stone yet. In fact, story, characters, art style, music and gameplay mechanics are all really waiting for their turn to get a little love.

I do promise they will, and hopefully I can share some of the fruits of those processes on this blog soonish. It would be a good way to hold myself accountable to keep making steps forward, as well as it may just be insightful (or entertaining) to someone out there (maybe you).

Let me set a bit of the scene of the game. We’ve been working on a fictional island population who happen to be very remote, self-sufficient and came into contact with the philosophies and musings of famed historical thinker Karl Marx.

Now if you’re familiar with his writings, you might say such an island could be fertile grounds for his line of thinking. In the sense that it (by nature) lacks many of the capitalistic aspects Marx critiques. So you could see it as a sandbox Marx would be able to project his ideas on. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Marx wasn’t exactly an ‘I have the solution’-person, but more a ‘that is wrong’-person.

Still, that’s fine. We’re not necessarily depending on Marx to make our decisions, rather we’re using his thinking to come up with ideas about how our fictional society functions, while trying to maintain a bit of coherence in the process. So when we ask questions like:

  • Who is in charge of the island?
  • How are products sold and how are prices determined?
  • Who owns homes? Does anyone own anything?
  • Do people have jobs?

a philosophical lens will prove to be very useful to give a sense of direction as to how to answer said questions.

Marxism and its brother- and sister approaches to society and economy are of course dense works to tap into. And interpretations do vary, especially when you consult the internet. We’re not going for a picture perfect stamp of Marxism though, so any errors in interpretation or other forms of misunderstanding of the theories we can without worry chalk up to happy accidents. Because again, we use the philosophy to guide our thinking, not to define our thinking.

To illustrate: when we try to answer a question about how products may be sold on the island or how price is determined, it is very easy to fall into the thinking we’re used to from living in a capitalistic society. You would quickly assume that products are probably imported or exported, or that there are companies on the island who have employees that make or grow products. And those companies would set prices on their products based on ‘the market’. Which would mean they would come up with a price that both generates the most profit, while not obliterating demand.

Now it’s totally fine to write a society like that, but for our game we want the island population not to suffer under those ideas. So to check our capitalistic mindsets, having a guy who is famous for critiquing capitalism on your side, is very helpful. In fact, it’s a bit like having a teacher correct your initial gut responses and challenge you to think a little further.

If we’re not establishing a ‘market’ in the capitalistic sense, and if we don’t have companies, or even ownership, what do we have? Do we introduce a state apparatus who manages production and distribution? Possibly. Maybe we get feudal with lords taking care of their people. Or we invent something else that will stand the test against Marx’s critiques of capitalism.

For now I will leave you with this set of vague notions of what our island society looks like. Hopefully it primes you a bit for all that I can hopefully share in the future. And hopefully it warmed up my writing muscles a bit more.