Ren’py – Interactive Fiction, Games, Stories – and culture.

You are probably aware of the graphic novel, and perhaps even the choose your own adventure type novel. This post is about how games and game culture have evolved from these, especially in non-english cultures, not least  Manga.

We tend to look at games and even comics as though western eyes, and it’s fair to say most of the games that arrive in Australian homes are support western culture. Numerous teacher’s I’ve met have used Scratch in their classrooms to teach programming and computational logic and a few have used game-engines to allow students to develop games, though this is a far less familiar sight.

Let me then introduce you to Ren’Py – A free game-engine that works on all platforms, including mobiles.

Ren’Py is a visual novel engine that helps you use words, images, and sounds to tell stories with the computer. These can be both visual novels and life simulation games. The easy to learn script language allows you to efficiently write large visual novels, while its Python scripting is enough for complex simulation games.

Sounds good huh? Free, not too hard, tells stories … something that easily goes over into computing and language arts …

But at this point you’re probably thinking – this is still too hard. Put aside your self-belief and think about this not as a game project, but something that allows kids to discover new cultures. Have a look at this blog, and pay attention to both the short development time, the manga-culture and how the pride the maker has found when others discover their game. What’s the first thing that your notice – the image is completely in-appropriate right? Run, but wait – literature is full of text that depicts mental pictures for a culture. Manga might just not be yours.

Try out Self Made Hero, Manga Shakespeare – is that a little more appealing? Maybe, but what I found interesting is that the game-maker links to Self Made Hero, and blogrolls Shakespeare. That was pretty amazing.

The video above is an example of someone creating a interactive fiction game, using Ren’Py. But that’s not as impressive as the way they’ve gone about justifying their work.

Granted, this will be no Girlfriend of Steel, I just wanted to test out the Ren’Py interface using Evangelion, my favorite anime series of all time. I became compelled to tackle the final episode of the series, I don’t know why. If I continue to make this VN test using the last episode, I may try to put in a choice at the end, whether or not Shinji comes to grip with himself or not, but I’m not sure.

I apologize for the extremely crappy quality. I used Cam Studio to record the video, and my computer has been acting rather slow as of late. And since I don’t have any OGG or mp3 files for the music (all I have of the Evangelion soundtrack is one CD), I just placed this song over the video while in Windows Movie Maker. The real game, for the time being, is silent.

Evangelion is a copyright of Gainax. Original scenario written by Hideaki Anno. Artwork by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. Music by Shiro Sagisu.

When I read that, and then thought about it, I wondered just how many teachers would make sense of what it took to make the video (given it says little about the game). Then down below in the comments, a conversation takes place, where someone helps improve the game.

When you are defining characters, include this line within the definition: show_side_image=Image(“ADMYC1A.png”, xalign=0.038, yalign=0.9). Of course, you can insert the name of your image name where ADMYC1A is.

I guess the point of this post is that games belong to a culture, and it’s really easy to forget that ‘western’ isn’t the only culture. At the same time, we judge what we see based largely on what we understand, and don’t look for the inter-connections between mediums and cultures. Perhaps most importantly, because we don’t look, we assume that something like Ren’Py is ‘too hard’ and we can take a easier road. What we miss is that there are millions of kids finding, reading, making and sharing things like this – they are learning and making connections between people and culture that result in work like this. I tried it out for a few hours – followed the wiki, added some drawings and really it wasn’t hard. So I gave it to the primary age home-test pilots (who know next to nothing about programming) and they did better than me.

So maybe, if you want to take a risk, throw this at students, see what they make of it. You might be amazed to find that to them, this culture is familiar territory.


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