Looking for calm with a new game from Nijmegen

15 Jan 2020

You can’t die, it’s not hyperactive and it contains poetry. Little White Rocket is quite an unconventional game. Malte Olsson created a game that’s supposed to make you relax. ‘I think the game especially encourages you to live in the moment,’ says professor of Behavioural Science and Orthopedagogy Isabela Granic.

The origin story of Little White Rocket sounds good. A Swede and an Irishman both move to Nijmegen for love. At the Dutch course of Radboud in’to Languages they sit next to each other. Musician and game developer Malte Olsson and poet Laurence O’Dwyer get along well. They go for a drink in a bar after class and there the idea of a calming game with poetry is born.

Olsson is the driving force behind the game. He likes to play fast and violent games, like SuperMeatBoy and Battlefield. ‘Those are really good and fun games, but especially after playing Battlefield you go to bed completely jacked up from adrenaline. I wanted to relax when gaming, but it got me hyper.

Olsson decided to create a game to make him relax. He managed to do that by creating game mechanics that are about timing. ‘It’s really easy to control with the so called spin-aim-fly-mechanics. It doesn’t exist in any other game.’ He’s spent a lot of time working on it and experimenting. ‘Every time I had the option to choose between making something frustrating or calming, I chose calming. The game works, at least for me. It’s very meditative.’

Therapist

It raises the question what a game actually needs to have a calming effect. Professor Isabela Granic says not much is known about it in science ‘It’s extremely complex to research that. Some people think solving jigsaw puzzles is frustrating, others love it. The same goes for games. Playing a shooter game after work can be relaxing to some people. It’s hard to draw any conclusions.’

Photo: isabelagranic.com

Granic knows a lot about games and behaviour. She’s been working on games for kids with emotional problems for years. She’s worked together with game developers and other scientists on the game MindLight, which helps kids to relax. They get an EEG-electrode on their forehead. The electrode reads the brainwaves and by doing that measures the degree of relaxation. The more relaxed the player is, the bigger the chance they win the game.

‘It has proven to be effective. You can compare it with one-to-one therapy. In fact, it works better than with a therapist. Boys around the age of thirteen have difficulties talking about fear. A game like this helps in those cases.’

Reach

Back to Little White Rocket. Granic took a look at the trailer of the game and recognised that it’s ‘mellow’. ‘It’s a game without challenges. That doesn’t mean necessarily that it’s more relaxing than a game with challenges. But it looks beautiful and it will appeal to a lot of people. I think this game especially encourages you to live in the moment.’

According to Granic, Little White Rocket fits the last development in the gaming industry: the growth of independent games. ‘It’s not just big companies that you can buy games from anymore. There have been more games during the last five years. All games playable in-between on your phone. They offer a big range of different, small experiences. It’s a big enrichment of the regular offer.’

Art project

Olsson considers his game an art project. He asked O’Dwyer, who was working at the Donders Institute at the time, to write poems for the game. Olsson took care of the visuals and the music. ‘It’s a whole world on its own, with a central theme: coming home.’

O’Dwyer never expected to write a poem for a game. He won different important prizes for his poetry and has been able to make a living out of his writing. At the moment he’s living in Italy. ‘I’m not a gamer. But it actually works really well to work on something like this from a whole different perspective.’

‘It adds freshness to the game,’ adds Olsson. ‘When you ask someone who’s not part of your own bubble, you stumble upon great surprises.’

‘Games and social media create new opportunities for people to enjoy poetry’

Granic happens to be a poetry enthusiast. It’s completely unrelated to her work as a scientist. ‘The more people come into contact with poetry the better, so that’s definitely a strong point of this game. Games and social media create loads of new opportunities for people to enjoy poetry.’

Commercial success

It’s difficult to predict if Little White Rocket will become a commercial success. That is always an issue with independent games, especially ones that have such a remarkable approach.

O’Dwyer: ‘I’ve talked about the game with other poets. Some think it’s ridiculous to write a poem for a game. Others are curious. It shows that it appeals to specific people. I think it fits well in The Netherlands. This country has the curiosity and openness that this game needs.’

More information on Little White Rocket: http://macalaus.com

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