I like Pokemon, and I like personal development. I've recently been brainstorming ideas for an app - not really a game - which is sort of a combination of these two. Perhaps it'd be called something like "Inner Demons" or "Mind Tamer" or "Emotimon" or some better title I've yet to come up with, and it'd be a way of visualising and cultivating our inner worlds in terms of traits, fears, aspirations, strengths, and personal connections, represented as animal-like creatures that you feed whenever you engage a part of yourself, and in feeding them, they grow and evolve to represent your own personal growth and evolution.
When I first started making games as a teenager, I never really thought of them as anything other than distractions. Immersive other worlds; an escape from the reality I didn't particularly want to face. As I've grown older and struggled a lot with my own broken mind, failing completely to reach any of the standard milestones on the path to adulthood, I've come to see games not (just) as a way to avoid the world, but as a potential medium for inspiring players with novel outlooks that might better help them face its challenges, as regular readers of my ramblings may already know.
Frustratingly, however, I'm still struggling with my own mind to the degree that I'm making poor progress on my projects (I'm alone, I have a brain tumour, depression, anxiety, and I feel I don't have the resilience to reach out to others due to a lack of positive experiences and the deterioration of social skills due to prolonged isolation; basically, there's a lot weighing me down).
I spend a lot of time on my phone these days - a big change from the not-too-distant days when I didn't even have one! - and I'm fond of collecting apps that might help me out in some way. Brain training apps, music practice apps, meditation apps, healthy eating apps, to do list apps... Never distracting games, but augmentations to my external life. Some - like those - are explicitly designed to help, though others - like Pokemon GO - have real-world benefits (getting out of the house, exercise) without the potentially tedious feeling of taking a class. They're something you want to do, rather than something you feel you should.
I wish I had an app that could help me face my fears and develop my strengths without feeling like therapy, but I've yet to find one.
So I've come up with a concept for an app with that purpose which is more like a sort of visual To Do List in a sense rather than a game you'd actively play.
I've spent a lot of time reading the thoughts of people who struggle with many issues, on apps that allow the recording of such things. Common themes I notice include a desire to list all of one's issues so then they seem easier to face and overcome one by one, and the overwhelming feeling that there's too much bad and too little good in their minds so they might as well just end it all (both of which I share).
This app would be a way to address and challenge such things.
The idea is that you'd be able to freely create creatures that represented aspects of yourself that you either wanted to nurture or overcome. They'd all look like animals, some dark and threatening, others light and cute. You'd decide what they represented, and you'd feed them when you faced that facet of yourself. As you fed them, they'd become increasingly tame, beautiful, and angelic (behold the amazing artwork I poured hours of effort into).
I'll provide some examples of what you could create creatures to represent:
- One of my oddest and most irritating fears is that of Facebook; though I'm aware much of what people post isn't necessarily representative of their life as a whole, seeing that people have partners and social gatherings and networks at all
reminds me how cut off I am from everything, and it's painful. However, I feel that this aversion to social networking impedes my ability to make connections or show my interest in the lives of other people, keeping me stuck in this position, and I want to overcome it. So, I might use this app to create a Fear creature that I'd call 'Facebook'.
- I have a couple of friends, who I feel I should work on my relationships with, so I might create a Bliss creature for each one, named after them.
- I also want to do creative things more often, so I might create a creature called 'Drawing', and another called 'Composing'.
You wouldn't 'create' creatures as in design them yourself (I considered it, but it clashes with the purpose of the app), but rather you'd choose from various species that you feel best represents that aspect, feeling, thought, fear or whatever. They'd probably be assigned one of the six Alora Fane sentiments, mainly to distinguish them aesthetically and aid in my designs.
Interaction with these creatures would be as simple as could be: you could feed them either a black fruit or a white fruit. That's it. No strategy-ridden battles or quest or conquest or training or breeding. Just feeding. Two buttons. Simplicity is key.
Creatures would come in two types: Positive and Negative; light and dark. A friend might be represented by a positive creature, while a fear might be represented by a negative one. (Or perhaps each species would have forms in each direction, as in that first image, though you might specify the tameness when you create the creature.)
Each 'species' would come with specific instructions/requests (perhaps shown as a sort of speech bubble coming from the creature itself) instructing you on its feeding preferences, though they'd only serve as a suggested guide. You could also make your own note during the creation to remind you why you created it ("feed me when you view Facebook for a few minutes!").
Feeding would increase some kind of level value (or similar); perhaps a single level per feeding (to maximise the feeling of satisfaction).
You'd also be able to write a tweet-length note about why you were feeding it that fruit, both to discourage tapping the button repeatedly and to keep a log to remind you of what you'd accomplished in the past.
You might also be able to specify how often you intend to feed the creature - every day, twice a week, etc - and they'd send you notifications when they were getting hungry to remind you. If you neglected to feed them during that time, their level would decrease.
Generally speaking (though there might be exceptions to the rule), negative creatures would start off looking fierce and threatening, but would grow increasingly tame and cute the more black fruit they ate (that is, they'd move closer to the middle in that progression). You'd be encouraged to feed them black fruit whenever you faced whatever they represented, even if it hurt you to do so.
In my case, I might look around Facebook for a few minutes, suffering psychologically all the while, but at the end of it I could feed my Facebook creature a black fruit and watch it grow. I'd have faced my fears and got a clear, visible 'reward' for doing so.
If however the experience actually went well
, and I enjoyed what I saw on Facebook, I might instead choose to feed the creature a white fruit, which would also increase level, but would increase some kind of 'lightness' value too.
A negative creature's tameness would represent your familiarity with it; it could be fully tame while your fear of whatever it represents still remains a fear. But you'd hopefully have become desensitised to it by that point, as you'd faced it so many times.
But their 'lightness' would represent your transforming attitude towards whatever they represented. The goal would be to make them fully tame and
fully light by both facing that fear and altering your attitude towards it.
Positive creatures would work differently. You'd be encouraged to feed them white fruit whenever you had a good experience with whatever they represented. You might feed one that represented a friend when you had a good time with that friend, or you might have one that represented your intelligence or compassion which you fed when someone - even yourself! - complimented you on that trait.
Positive creatures would start off cute, but small, and they'd grow more celestial and larger as they were fed white fruit.
If however something bad happened regarding whatever they represented - you fell out with the friend, say, or worried about your intelligence - you'd be encouraged to feed them a black fruit. This wouldn't result in any growth at all, but would simply render them visibly sick for 24 hours. Hopefully the guilt of seeing something you cared about suffer in this way would encourage you to rethink why you were feeling negative about it in the first place.
Creatures would 'starve' and regress if not fed for long periods of time (they'd never die, but they might eventually lose all progress you'd made with them). So the aim would be to nurture your valued traits frequently in order to keep them vigorous.
Of course, this whole app would be entirely dependent on the user's self discipline. It wouldn't be a game that worked against you, which you had to beat through skill. If you wanted, you could feed the creatures as much as you liked to get them to their final forms quickly. But you could also write a To Do List and tick off every box even if you've not actually done any of the things on it. As there's absolutely no benefit from that, though, I wonder if anyone actually does it.
Ultimately, it'd be a way of helping you take care of yourself if you already
have the intention to do so. Positive reinforcement for self-chosen valued traits and actions. An incentive for facing fears you might normally opt to avoid.
I can see how it wouldn't benefit everyone, but I like the idea because I feel that it'd benefit me
. I don't mean as the developer, monetarily - I don't know how or if I'd get money from it - but I can really see manifesting my fears and strengths like this would help a whole lot to climb out of the psychological pit I've been wallowing in for so long.
There are several benefits I imagine such an 'emotional menagerie' could have:
- If you feel that you have nothing good in your life, you could look at your creatures and see positive ones, how they'd grown, and see evidence that you had more going for you than you might have thought. It's like keeping a collection of 'good times' that many people do, which they can turn to when they're feeling down.
- Facing difficult feelings, rather than avoiding them, is the most important part of personal growth. You absolutely must swim through the shark-infested moat to get to the castle. But often there's little incentive to do so, other than some nebulous, imaginary benefit you might possibly
get from it in the distant future. Knowing that you'd visibly improve your 'mind zoo' by acting might encourage action where before there was no push to do so.
- Negative thoughts, ruminating, and conflict might be discouraged by the visible effect black fruit would have on previously positive creatures. As the creatures would be 'yours', a part of you, you might care more about how they'd suffer than you would about the suffering of others (sadly, we're all egotists), so you might avoid inflicting pain simply for the sake of self-interest.
- It might encourage introspection, both of aspects you need to work on and strengths you might not normally acknowledge.
- Many, many apps and things use soulless graphs to track progress, and those do help... but we react emotionally to other lifeforms in a way that we just don't to raw data. A psychological experiment called the ∞ Wason selection task ∞
comes to mind. You can read that article for details, but the gist is that when given a problem with only cold, hard logic rules to follow, most people get the answer wrong. But when given the exact same problem with the rules expressed in the form of social rules (legal drinking age), almost everyone gets it correct. Hopefully, then, taking care of yourself by taking care of pretend animals would be much more motivating than simply maintaining a line on a lifeless graph (it's a bit of a stretch to use that particular experiment to support the idea that we respond more to social interactions than to logical ones, I know, but who wouldn't rather make a puppy smile than increase a number on a graph?).
I feel that such a thing could benefit me because I'm introspective and interested in personal growth by nature, though I'm unsure how the 'average person' - who has less of a driving need to change - would respond to such a thing.
I know that there are tons of 'productivity' apps and websites and such out there, and that there's one called 'Habatica' (or something?) which aims to use game-like mechanics to encourage you to keep good habits, but this would be different in that it would focus more on the 'feeling' than the 'doing'. Who you are, more than what you did. Taming the mind, not just 'exercising daily'.
I don't intend to make this instead of
games. Rather, this is the hammer I feel I need to make before I can build a cathedral. Or something. A tool to help me do everything else. Obviously I've only begun to plan it; I haven't designed any of the creatures (those drawings don't count!), I'm still uncertain of the mechanics, and, well, it still needs a lot of work.
But from what I've presented so far, what are your thoughts? I value your input!