In a world that is fueled by technology and online gaming for entertainment, Casey O’Donnell and the game design collective Affinity Games seeks to bring back the fun and contemplativeness of a classic table-top card game with Creative Dying Card Game. An associate professor in the Department of Media and Information since 2012, O'Donnell has dedicated his research to exploring creative collaborative work in the world of videogame design and development. His recent venture has been collaborating with Meg Miller and Hermione Banger to create a card game that is both reflective and informative for all generations. Their hard work in creating this game is being recognized at this year’s IndieCade Festival with a nomination for their “Tabletop Design” award.
Creative Dying is a conversation-based game that provides prompts to players that encourage meaningful conversations about life, death and dying. Players pull cards from the deck of prompts and those that can be “played” depend on the gameplay mode and players’ desire to engage with the prompts on them. The cards have two prompts on them — one right-side up and the other right-side down. Players can choose which one they want to read. The prompts on the cards are meant to be introspective and ruminating as players then take turns responding to questions like, “When do you feel most present in your life?” or “How do you live with grief as a part of your life?” The game’s “Code of Conduct” encourages players to be open and vulnerable with their answers in an environment that is supportive and free of judgement. Cultivating a safe space for individuals to express their fears, revelations and understandings of the cycle of life is a key part of the game. Players always have the option to “redraw,” “pass” or “come back to me” if they have difficulty answering the questions.
O’Donnell, Miller and Banger started working on creating the card game in July 2020, with its first version being released as a print-and-play along in January 2021. The team then took the next few months to playtest the game and work out all the kinks, making edits to it as needed. The physical version of the game was officially released on May 1, 2021.
All three members of the team were involved in developing the game’s design, code of conduct and gameplay, the first iterations of writing the card prompts and playtesting with volunteers. Later iterations of the prompts were created primarily by Miller and Banger, with accompanied artwork on the cards done by O’Donnell and Banger. The team created multiple versions of the game: a free printable version; an online browser version and the physical edition. The online version of the game is courtesy of O’Donnell’s game development and tech skills.
“I also created on the ‘Online Card Browser,’ which we used extensively for playtesting online during COVID and makes it possible for people to explore and play the game online for free,” said O’Donnell. All in all, he asserts that “It has truly been a collaborative effort.”
The game itself is part of a larger project called, “The Creative Dying Project” whose mission is to start conversations about death, encourage end-of-life planning and establish dying centers that are inclusive and community based. The project was created by Miller who met O'Donnell and Banger through The Fledge, a radically inclusive ideation and maker space, incubator and accelerator located in Lansing, MI. O'Donnell and Banger had been making games together since 2017 through the game design collective, Affinity Games before meeting Miller.
“Hermione was talking with the founder of The Fledge about conversation games and he mentioned Meg’s work with a local Death Café and her Creative Dying project,” said O'Donnell. “We then began discussing how we might collaborate. We played one of our first conversation games, Fellowship of Fools: The (Friendship) Game (which won a Player’s Choice award at Meaningful Play in 2018), and she fell in love with it and decided she wanted to make a conversation game with us. Eventually it became Creative Dying Card Game.” In late spring 2022, the team submitted the game to Meaningful Play’s Game Exhibition and IndieCade’s Game Festival, hoping to share their beloved creation with other game players. They were accepted to both.
IndieCade looks to support independent game developers/development through organized international events to showcase the future of independent games. This year's festival will showcase more than 40 nominated games for game developers and game lovers alike to come connect with creators, experience game play and play featured games.
“For game makers just being nominated is a huge deal. ‘Discovery’ is a difficult thing for game makers and doubly so for non-digital or tabletop game makers. Nominations and awards like these are exceptionally rare for game makers.”
The festival takes place fully online on Twitch and Steam starting November 4, with the awards ceremony on November 5.
By Casey Halas