Powerless is a new game that's set to hit the App Store on August 23rd. It's an interactive novel of sorts, with a huge cast of characters and a really intriguing story involving the end of technology as we know it.
The game's got lots of interesting ideas, so we took a moment to have a chat with the co-founder of Narratio, the dev behind the game, Lauren Anne Marie Carter. Carter also designed the game, and has some really interesting insights about tech, life, and diversity.
148 Apps: First up, could you tell us a bit about what Powerless is
Lauren Anne Marie Carer: Powerless is an interactive simulator that has been designed to drop players into the fall out of a catastrophic EMP to see how they would react in a world suddenly bereft of electricity. At its heart, the game is a fictional exploration of a "what if" that has pre-occupied myself and Narratio's co-founder Ryan Dean for over a decade. Could humans survive without electricity or have we lost the skills and social cohesion that would allow us to do so?
You've made sure the game has a diverse cast, why is that?
It's kind of a long story, but here is the most succinct version. Firstly, the game has always been grounded in reality and fact. We never wanted to make a game about a zombie apocalypse, or aliens or anything 'make-believe'. We never wanted to give players the usual comfort of separation that is afforded by fantasy. We choose an EMP caused by an intense solar flare because it's a genuine threat.
We are so heavily dependent on electricity, and we are so unprepared for this sort of disaster that it really would be apocalyptic. If the 1859 Carrington Event happened today, we would be up a certain creek, without a certain paddle.
So (to get to the point) with that strong sense of realism at the core of our game, we had to create a cast of characters that was diverse, because it had to be representative of London; diversity was a no-brainer. It wasn't even a conscious "oh we better make this diverse", it had to be diverse to be a real representation of our city. I wanted players to get the experience of "being in someone else's shoes" and for that to be a powerful and meaningful experience, it was essential that you could experience the world we were creating from all angles.
Do you think mobile gaming is a good place to discuss issues like diversity?
Totally. It's quick, immediate and accessible and can spread a message to a wide variety of people. For us, it's all about generating that 'what if' conversation to encourage empathy and understanding of others, our society and ourselves. I think many players would quickly realise after playing that they would need a great deal of assistance from people in their community in order to survive in a world without modern conveniences and that's the great thing about Powerless.
Imagine the Central Line at rush hour; the sweat, the anger, the constant low-level annoyance at everyone around you. Mobile gaming has an opportunity to disrupt these everyday moments and instil a sense of empathy and understanding among its players which is a beautiful thing.
Are there any other mobile games you can think of that stand out in terms of the inclusivity of their characters?
I think there are some compelling mobile experiences that are set in unusual situations to generate understanding and empathy with a broader range of cultures; Bury me, my Love and Finding Home, in particular, use the interactive fiction format beautifully, and Never Alone I think is a really special game. They all have female characters from other cultures who have to overcome trials and tribulations that are beyond the everyday experience (in the west at least) which is excellent.
The games industry has done a fair bit of work putting heroines into the forefront in recent years, but of course, that's only a portion of the diversity conversation. I don't know of any other games where you can play a Romanian prison guard, a homeless girl, a lesbian from West Africa or a Server Technician from Kandahar in one game!
What more can developers be doing in this sphere?
I think what's most important is not just including characters for the sake of it, because players will see through that. I think all devs should look beyond their own field of view, raise their gaze and aim to create unique and exciting games that can resonate with everyone.
There's always going to be a place for match 4s, and endless runners but games are so much more than just a fun distraction, and I honestly believe most game designers have a desire to be part of something bigger. To genuinely contribute to popular culture and to generate a shift in opinion and understanding we need to look beyond a tiny, tiny proportion of the world's population.
The work that BAFTA is doing with their new 'Games Beyond Entertainment' category is an excellent way of encouraging devs to tackle more significant societal issues which should naturally lead to the greater inclusion of characters.
What would you say to people who think pushing for more diversity in games is a bad thing?
I would be surprised at anyone suggesting that diversity is a bad thing; I suspect their issue would be with a sense of forced inclusion or box-ticking, but perhaps that is what is needed in the short term to help raise everyone's game and kick a few people in the right direction.
In my opinion, it's not about fulfilling a prerequisite, it's about finding the best medium for your story, your game mechanic, and if you have one, the message you're trying to convey. For us, diversity was clearly the best way. Of course, in some games, your protagonist is going to be a white male because that's the right tone, and that's fine too, but it shouldn't be the default. Sometimes a goat will be the best lead character, it really depends.
And lastly, what do you want Powerless to achieve?
I really hope the game creates a conversation about sustainability and our dependence on electricity. I'd love there to be a community of players contributing ideas and scenarios to the experiences. The game has been built to be expandable, and we intend to do this within the premium cost of the game. Future updates will contain new characters, new levels, and it would be amazing if some of that could come from players.
We also want to translate the game into different languages and provide more accessibility with a full voice-acted cast. It just wasn't possible for us to make that happen with this version but it's on our roadmap. Then, of course, we have different platforms to tackle! Android is next up then Steam, then Switch.
The ultimate dream is to create a series that tackles different natural disasters globally with a diverse range of Personas. We want to find those situations which can make us feel powerless and role-play around that to raise awareness, educate, and give people something to really think about.
It's always been one of the great ironies of our game that we are trying to showcase humanities reliance on electricity and technology through a mobile device but I do believe that our game has the power to lift players out of their phones for a moment, to take a wider look at what's around them and appreciate their dependence not only on technology but one another.