“What are the consequential choices people are faced with that a player could get and understand and lead them to think about it in their own lives or to interrogate their own experiences or the experiences of their elders,” she says. There was a lot of reflection and conversation among the developers about those overarching themes—like opportunity and advancement—versus staying rooted in the community.
Another framework the game’s development team wanted to focus on was the illusion of choice—where the game, much like reality, doesn’t always take into account the player’s motivation for the decisions they make. This is a concept that sometimes frustrates gamers, given that games are such an interactive medium, but in Dot’s Home, not having all of the “right” choices laid out in front of you was exactly the point.
As with every video game, “somebody else designed the system without your input. Somebody else has made the system for you, and you play it and then whatever outcome you get, that’s what you get, which sounds a lot like America’s housing system,” Rosales says.
Luisa Dantas, project director at Rise-Home Stories, chatted about the game at SXSW this year, in a panel that discussed how gaming and gaming technology can be a tool to fight structural inequality. Dantas said the game’s audience should be Black and brown people, because housing inequality affects them the most.
Given this intended audience, Dantas understood that these players start the game knowing the system is rigged, and that they’re playing with a limited and hindered choice set. Those narrative decisions reflect the systemic inequalities in place that limit access to safe and affordable housing to all but the wealthiest people in many communities. On top of these limited choices, players have to think about how their choices will impact their neighborhood and not simply focus on Dot and her family’s needs.
“There’s also a direct rebuke to this idea of this sort of toxic meritocracy,” Dantas says. “This individualistic idea that it’s all about your personal responsibility and your personal choices. And if you just made the set of right choices, x, y and z would happen.” In the game, as in reality, sometimes you can do everything “right,” and the community is no better, because so many factors are out of your control or influence.
Rosales describes Dot’s Home as a “values-driven game.”