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Published July 18, 2020

We Should Talk is a game about selecting your words carefully. Developed by masters students at NYU Game Center, it is an attempt to change the common transactional depiction of romance in videogames (e.g. Stardew Crossing’s ‘love meter’ mechanic which allows you to woo an NPC by giving them daily gifts). In We Should Talk, you navigate a difficult patch in your relationship with your girlfriend, via text messages. The game uses an innovative “sentence spinner” mechanic to construct your responses out of subparts. For example, when your partner says she has made dinner (noodles) for you and asks when you’re coming home, your response can be constructed from three parts, each with three options:

  1. Don’t worry / sorry / my badScreenshot from We Should Talk
  2. we’ll eat together / we can slurp noods / let’s hang
  3. later / tomorrow / another time

Now obviously this gives you a lot less scope to choose the content of the conversation than your average branching-dialogue, but makes up for it by giving you more scope for subtlety of expression. You can be apologetic and make definite plans to connect later “My bad, we’ll eat together tomorrow.” or you can brush it off with something vague “Don’t worry, let’s hang another time”. Your girlfriend’s reaction depends on how your phrase your response.

This is interesting because it increases the level of sensitivity and conversational skill required of the player. The spinner mechanic offers a much finer granularity of choice, and you need to weigh your words carefully and judge how your partner will respond, skills that normal dialogue trees seldom engage.

From an moral psychology perspective, they fall under the categories of moral action (putting judgement into action) and moral sensitivity (understanding the motivations of others), which games often neglect in favor of moral judgement (deciding what is right and wrong). It is not just a matter of deciding what the best outcome is, you need skill in reading the world and interacting with it in order to achieve that outcome. This expands the scope of how games can engage us ethically, and I am keen to explore the possibilities it offers.

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