A Different Way to Play
How #SelfCare could change the way games are designed.
Let's stay in bed all day.
Gaming means different things to different people. For some it might mean firing up Call of Duty for that adrenaline rush at the end of a long day. But it’s not the only way to play, according to Brie Code.
“My colleagues would assume that if someone wasn’t a gamer it was because the game was too hard and they’re not good enough to play it,” explains the former Ubisoft AI programmer.
“The idea that it’s not that a game is too hard, it’s that you don’t want it, was new.”
Now CEO and creative director of studio Tru Luv, Code co-created #SelfCare—an app that gamifies a lazy day in bed—with writer Eve Thomas. What sets the experience apart is that the app is built to engage players in a non-traditional way.
There’s no gameboard, no high score—only an occupied bed with a cat’s tail waving back and forth in a sun-soaked room overflowing with calm. #SelfCare relaxes you with meditative tasks, like word jumbles that become more hopeful and messy laundry that gets neater.
It’s satisfying in a completely new way. So, could #SelfCare, and games like it, tap into that most elusive of audiences: people who don’t play games?
“In video games, we talk about the theory of flow,” explains Code. “We try to put the player in a flow state—and we do that by making things increasingly harder.
“Making something difficult stimulates adrenaline and then having the opportunity to master that challenge stimulates dopamine—that’s the fight or flight response.”
So, all that nervous energy you feel when tackling a big boss is no accident. By contrast, #SelfCare is rooted in “tend and befriend”—a behaviour centred around mutually beneficial outcomes. Could this style make more people want to play games?
A defining moment for Code was when her cousin Kristina played Skyrim and got upset when a supporting character died. Fighting dragons left her cold, but going on quests and forging connections to characters was far more her style.
“Kristina said to me that all these years that she didn’t support my career choice… it wasn’t that she didn’t like video games, it was that she didn’t know what they could be.”
“The industry doesn’t cover a wide range of interests outside geek culture. That’s why I wanted to start a studio to make games with people who don’t like them—to explore what else is out there.”
Creating games with and for people who don’t play games is pretty revolutionary. Code says #SelfCare was born out of necessity.
“I made this app with Eve because we both needed it,” Code tells us. “We wanted something in our phones that would just give us a moment.”
“What I want to explore with this app is: Can we create a similar flow state with a ‘tend and befriend’ response instead of fighting and winning?”
Tru Luv continues to work with academics to keep #SelfCare relevant, while Code believes that listening to non-mainstream opinions is key to opening games up to a wider audience.