By Raymundo Virula
The Parable of Polygons by Vihart and Nicky Case is a web browser based game that uses simplicity to highlight a baffling issue in modern society. The issue at hand is that of segregation, although many believe segregation to be a thing of the past The Parable of Polygons reminds us that it is still an issue. The problem the game is addressing is oftentimes forgotten about because it isn’t intentional so much because of the remanence of segregation.
Although there are no laws that require citizens of the United States to be segregated socioeconomic situations as well as tradition keep races from intermingling and desegregating. Many neighborhoods that were once lower on the economic totem pole are growing into economic forces but because the residents don’t move their demographics remain of the same. Generations of minorities have lived in these previously impoverished neighborhoods and have been able to better them by investing in their growth and prosperity. The issue with all this is that families have been stagnant for the past few years and haven’t moved around like they used to so intermingling has decreased to the point where schools might as well be segregated with certain public schools having as much as 90% of a particular race. This segregation is the root of many modern-day issues involving race and inequality. The lack of interaction between races and cultures makes it so that barriers are formed between races and miscommunications become abundant. Most Americans don’t view themselves as racist but their inherent lack of interaction with other races makes them ignorant of other cultures besides their own. The same goes for the African American and Latin cultures. They have formed niches within neighborhoods throughout America but as a result have separated themselves and formed an initial line of divide.
The Game The Parable of Polygons uses simplicity and closely tied analogies to tell about this issue as well as provide a simple but effective solution. The game itself is the product of two Youtubers who run channels on math and comics respectively. The Purpose of the game is to sort of instill a call to action in the player as well as simply inform him that the issue is present. The Gameplay of The Parable of Polygons is unlike a traditional game in that it feels more like an interactive lesson (probably a result of the creators’ personal style), it has two colorful characters and a variety of charts. The controls are simple and explained before every level / chart. The analogy of the shapes being races fits the message perfectly. Every decision in the game relates to the message and as a result everything that the game is trying to teach you comes through clearly. For this reason, I believe that it fails as a procedural game. Procedural games are supposed to make the player find meaning in his own actions in the game but The Parable of Polygons makes it so that the text before every game is what you’re supposed to be learning about. I do believe that the game is still able to teach just not in a procedural way and more like how some lessons in school have games attached to them to help the concept stick.
The way that the game teaches the player is through a very ingenious analogy where there are two races, squares and triangles and although they are not racist they prefer some of their race to be around them. Because of this bias they will move if the ratio between races becomes more than 2 to 1. After these rules of the reality are explained the game begins. The player starts by arranging a cluster of mixed shapes so that no shapes are unhappy with the living situation. This part allows for a lot of repeatability and with enough curiosity a player could spend a long time trying to come up with a combination that was not very segregated. But, Most likely that isn’t the case, the player realizes that even with a small 1/3 bias the shapes become very segregated. The game shows that these shapes want diversity and if they have non-they feel uninterested. This third dimension allows for shapes to be placed together even if they are the same race the penalty being an uninterested citizen. After this “sandbox” type mode they player is presented charts of the game he just played and these charts highlight what little changes to the behaviors and preferences of the shapes can cause in the final layout of the neighborhood. The first chart highlights that even if a group starts diverse a small bias can lead to a chain of people moving further and further into segregation as groups decrease in diversity minorities move out of the groups leading to a positive feedback loop. The next graph shows that decreasing biases doesn’t do anything in an already segregated world as there is no motivation to move or act. This is why this game is important, it shows that without knowledge of the situation there is no motivation to act. The game offers a solution though, although its simplistic nature makes it hard to believe, it is in line with the simplistic game. The answer to the problem according to the game is for people to seek diversity. If people were to want to live in a place where they were the minority then the world would be much more diverse.
The answer seems too simplistic though, and thus the game’s solution becomes less believable. The initial issue that the game sought out to address was tackled and simply doing so makes this game successful. I was unaware that the issue that it presented was even that drastic, I also didn’t know what caused it but now I feel like I do. The game taught in the same way that a teacher would, using graphics, analogies, and kinesthetic to drill in the idea. For that reason, it is hard to call this a game, to me it is more like an interactive infographic. There is no real way to win and the real point of the game it to experiment only to find that there is only one real solution (the solution that the creators want you to follow). Overall it is a good message just not a great game due to of its lack of actual gameplay and freedom to play. It is an important message that is needed in today’s world though because it highlights how cancerous prejudice can be and how we still have a ways to go before we are a truly united and integrated society.
Hart, Vi. “Parable of the Polygons.” Blog post. Vi Hart. WordPress, 8 Dec. 2014. Web.
Parable of the Polygons. Nicky Case and Vi Hart. 2014. Video game.