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Ghost in the Empathy Machine: Exploring the Player-Character Connection in 'Life is Strange: True Colors'

Zak Garriss  (Vice President of Story Development, Telltale Games)

Jonathan Zimmerman  (Narrative Director, Deck Nine Games)

Location: Room 2010, West Hall

Date: Thursday, March 24

Time: 3:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass, All Access Online Only Pass - Get your pass now!

Topic: Design

Format: Session

Viewing Experience: In-Person/Virtual

Vault Recording: Video

Audience Level: Yes

In recent years, games have been called "empathy machines" for their ability to foster connections between players of all walks of life and the characters they inhabit. In this talk, Deck Nine Game's Zak Garriss and Jon Zimmerman explore the evolution of empathy as a fundamental mechanic of narrative adventure games and why they chose to render this mechanic explicit in the design of Alex's empathy power in Life is Strange: True Colors. They share their history with the mechanic's design and the strengths - and challenges - it brought to the writing of Alex's story. Drawing from recent literature on the power of empathy in social relationships--writings that informed their work in the writers' room--they zoom out to consider the role of the artist in fostering human connection and tolerance.


This talk offers insight into the parallel development of narrative and design in Life is Strange: True Colors as empathy as a concept was converted into empathy as a mechanic and a principle story engine for the game. Anyone interested in the narrative adventure genre, improving narrative in other genres, a better understanding the handshake between narrative and design in any genre, and empathy as a component of all game experiences will enjoy this talk.

Intended Audience

Game directors, game writers, narrative designers, and adventure game developers will all gain deep insight into lessons learned from making Life is Strange: Before the Storm and Life is Strange: True Colors in this talk.