J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, August 02, 2014

First-Person Holder

Noah J. Nelson of Turnstyle via the Huffington Post recently profiled a new videogame—or is that the right term?
Thralled is an interactive experience about a runaway slave in 18th-century Brazil who becomes traumatized over the disappearance of her baby boy,” [Miguel] Oliveira told me as we met in the University of Southern California’s Doheny Memorial Library in the week leading up to this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. “So the whole experience is about going through a historic representation of her memories and trying to find out what happened to the kid.” . . .

A game controller is used to guide the character Isaura through the Brazilian wilderness. As part of the story she carries her infant son, and a critical part of solving puzzles includes pressing the button that gets her to hold her child closer. This calms his cries, and prevents her from being discovered by a phantom that stalks her.

“You’re holding the baby yourself, in a way. By interacting with the character in such a way, by guiding and helping the character through those motions you’re really in it in a different way than in a novel or a film.”

Thralled also differs from game experiences in its intent. Others seek to entertain or educate, while Oliveira chases a different “e” word: empathy.

“It’s really an exploration of the relationship between mother and son, within this larger context of slavery and an exploration of how slavery—or what the extreme circumstances of slavery put this person through—affects that relationship.”

Thralled began as Oliveira’s senior thesis project, and was showcased at the annual Demo Day the Interactive Media & Games program puts on at the university. There it was seen by Ouya’s head of developer relations Kellee Santiago, one of the luminaries of the indie game scene. Santiago offered Oliveira a chance to create a fully realized version of the game in exchange for an exclusivity deal with Ouya.
The impetus for the game grew from Oliveira’s thinking about the history of his native country, Brazil. But of course the same scenario played out in the U.S. of A., on a somewhat smaller scale.

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