Last winter, I participated in the GAMBIT Video Game Adaptation Workshop. After a short lecture on transmedia adaptation, participants were broken up into two teams and given the task of creating a game based on an existing IP (intellectual property) within a couple of hours.
Originally, my team's ideas were vague. We knew we wanted to create a game based on the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, but were having problems honing in on what aspect of that universe to focus on. Our initial idea was to have a series of mini-games, but this solution seemed to just multiply the amount of games we needed to make. We decided to focus on a mini-game that reflected the psychological struggle between Lucy and Charlie Brown. For those not familiar with the comic, Lucy runs a psychiatric advice stand. Charlie Brown comes to Lucy for advice and usually ends up getting insulted and ridiculed.
The game is card-based, and only the hearts and spaces of the deck are used. The hearts represent positive, or happy, points, while the spades signify negative, or sad, points. The higher the face value of the card, the greater the emotion that the card represents. In the game, one person takes on the role of Lucy and the other of Charlie Brown. Lucy's goal is to make Charlie Brown as miserable as possible. Charlie Brown's goal is to stand strong and not end up an emotional wreck.
At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt 5 cards. A round begins by each player choosing one of the cards in their hand and placing it facedown in front of them. These cards represent the conversation between Charlie Brown and Lucy. Both players turn their card over. Whoever has the card with the higher face value is winning the round. Let us assume that Lucy has the higher card. The emotion that she is able to place into her words overpowers the strength of Charlie Brown's words. Charlie Brown now has the option of bringing up a counterpoint that has more emotion behind it than any statement previously presented that round, i.e. placing down another card with a higher face value than Lucy's. If Charlie Brown takes advantage of this opportunity, he becomes the current winner of the round. Lucy has the option of countering this counter-argument to regain her position as winner. The round continues in this manner until no one can, or wants to, present a stronger argument. Let us assume that Lucy wins this round. She gathers the cards that have been played and places them in her emotion pile. This pile represents her current emotional status. If the sum of all of the face values of the spades is higher than that of the hearts, then she is sad. If the opposite is the case, then she is happy. If the numbers are equal, then she is in a neutral state. The same is true for Charlie Brown and his emotion pile. Both players draw cards until they have 5 again and another round begins.
The game continues until the players cannot draw cards so that each has the same number of cards in his or her hand. When everyone has run out of cards, both players' emotion piles are summed. Whoever is happier wins the game.
One of the challenges of creating this game was to make the experience of playing as Lucy and Charlie Brown distinct, while making sure there was no clear advantage to being one of the characters as opposed to the other. For example, it would make sense to have the winner of the game hinge purely on Charlie Brown's emotion pile. If Charlie Brown is unhappy then Lucy must be happy about his misery. If he is happy, then Lucy must be upset that she was not able to mess with his psyche. However, we felt that this placed an unfair burden on Charlie Brown's player. The differences between playing as one of the two characters arise when a tie occurs. If there is a tie at the beginning of a round, then Charlie Brown is considered the winning character. This aspect of the game allows Lucy to present a counter-statement. Lucy wants to make Charlie Brown sad, so she doesn't want him winning the conversation. If there is a tie at the end of the game, then Charlie Brown wins. Lucy can't stand having Charlie Brown be as happy as she is, but Charlie Brown is content with the position.
I was genuinely shocked when we did a test-play of this game during the workshop. When we were coming up with the rules, the game felt too simple. There was too much that went into luck and not enough into strategy. However, as I watched others play, I realized that a lot of the fun of the game came not from the technical aspect, but the emotional one. It was about trying to read your opponent's next move and act accordingly. The challenge that this task presented was enough to entertain the players. Choosing the card that they could play provided enough control over the game for them to feel like they had a say in who won the round, even though luck was probably the greatest factor. However, the players still seemed to realize the level of luck involved, so every small victory was something to celebrate. I believe that this level of emotion as opposed to strategy was key to tying in the game with the comic strip. Perhaps this is a direction more games should go in: less strategy, more emotion.
(Peanuts, Charlie Brown, Lucy Van Pelt and representations of the characters are copyright United Feature Syndicate, Inc. and appear here for educational, non-commercial purposes only. For more information on Peanuts and Charles M. Schulz, please visit snoopy.com or the Charles M. Schulz Museum.)