Parable of the Polygons is a game designed by Vi Hart and Nicky Case that demonstrates how small decisions made by good, nice people can affect a whole society and create systematic segregation. This game intends to increase awareness to the repercussions of seemingly harmless biases and puts the concepts of diversity and equality in a very simple and easy to follow along dialogue.
This game is laid out as an article, “A Playable Post on the Shape of Society.” The player stops to read a small segment of text then perform the action listed on the screen to interact with the Triangles and Squares of this polygon society. This society has one simple rule: “a polygon will want to move if less than ⅓ of its neighbors are not like it” (Case). The player runs multiple simulations in the game as they learn more about the effects of this seemingly unreasonable demand and adjust the shapes’ individual bias to see how much segregation occurs over time. The game aligns itself with Bogost’s idea of procedural rhetoric as laid out in Persuasive Games. Bogost claims that games are an ideal example of procedural rhetoric, and the most vivid, and most effective, information is interactive. Parable of the Polygons’ interactivity plays a key role in the effectiveness of the game, as it keeps the player engaged and allows for a “new and promising way to make claims about how things work” (Bogost). By being able to alter the biases, players are able to see how a small change in perception can create a great impact. Players also see that if a community is already segregated, increasing this bias does nothing to help if no active change is taking place. Coupled with the easy to follow along storyline, the clear instructions, and the charming animations, the game is very easily understandable.
The simplicity of the game makes it seem like it is made for children, however the lessons and the real world implications make this a game playable by people of all ages because it is relevant to everyone. The message is not lost and no one is intimidated at how inaccessible or intimidating the game is. In fact, Hart and Case include a “Wrapping Up” section to conclude the article, listing out the three lessons to take away from interacting with this game. It is easy to get overwhelmed by a large society-consuming problem, and then assume that there is nothing one person can do to make an impact. However, this game proves this false, including everyone in the solution which is appropriate because this is a problem that affects everyone and it can only be solved if as many people as possible contribute to help. This relevance is furthered upon in the fourteen additional languages the game comes in, indicating that segregation is not a problem of a single society.
Parable of the Polygons approaches the topic of segregation in an interesting manner. When this topic is typically brought up, people will often resort to attacking or distancing themselves from the group they feel is responsible for this disparity. However, Parable of the Polygons is aware for this and makes it a point to not reprimand anyone or assign blame- both the Squares and the Triangles like diversity, yet both parties have equal biases toward the other. Therefore, the game does not isolate anyone from feeling like they can safely participate in playing. It is nonpartisan, therefore ridding itself of the possibility of controversy. The diction utilized is also positive, including phrases such as “you’re missing out on some amazing squares in your life- that’s unfair to everyone” and “Get them all in the box of friendship” (Case). It seeks to keep the mood light and break down a seemingly large and very daunting problem. The game is neutral, it is not pointing fingers and is focused on delivering its message. Furthermore, the message is very personal and relatable; it is on a smaller scale, as the game targets people as individuals and urges them to make a change. The game is kind and forgiving to the player, empathetically relating to the player but encouraging them to make the necessary changes to achieve a more diverse society. Though the player is spoken to as an individual, the game makes sure to include the player as part of a larger narrative: “At first, going out on your own can be isolating… but by working together step by step, we’ll get there” (Case). The game creators include themselves as part of this larger change, making the act of “getting there” seem unified and doable.
The game’s effect can be furthered upon by looking to Jenkins’ Game Design as Narrative Architecture in Wardrip-Fruin. Jenkins discusses the role of games as narratives, and creates categories that have different requirements and elicit different reactions. Parable of the Polygons can be classified as an evoked narrative, which is a game that focuses on spatial design to further the sense of immersion within a familiar story. Evoked narratives rely on the player’s knowledge of the world it is presenting and alters specific details to project a new perspective on the story (Jenkins). With this understanding, Hart and Case created a game in which the society reflects our own but the player is the puppet master. By seeing this world from the outside, the player is both detached in that they can see the clear lessons without personal bias or issues getting in the way and empathetic, as they see the relations to our very own society. Therefore, the mirroring of the shape society on our own has an increased impact on the player as they see how the two connect.
Overall, this game does an exceptional job in addressing segregation in a community of nice, decent shapes. Despite this ambiguity in the players, the real world applications of the game are very clear and there is a simple translation to how the shape society applies to ours. It is removed from political spheres and simply focuses on acceptance.
Bogost, I. 2008. Persuasive Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (pp. 28-46) ISBN: 978026202614-7.
Hart, Vi, and Nicky Case, Parable of the Polygons, video game
Jenkins, H. 2004. Game Design as Narrative Architecture in Wardrip-Fruin, N. – Pat Harrigan (eds.) First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, Game. Cambridge: MIT Press.