Making A Game During A Pandemic: CoronArt

When I first started ideating my game, I knew that I didn’t just want to make another card game or board game. I originally wanted to make some form of Augmented Reality game which I could set up on campus. However, the Coronavirus, remote learning and social distancing quickly made this impossible. It also made it extremely difficult to playtest the game that I’d eventually make. So I decided early on to implement social distancing and COVID19 as a part of the gameplay and theme.

When the pandemic and social distancing were at its peak, many people would communicate with their neighbours by writing signs and putting them somewhere that they would be easily seen. Around the same time, I had also read a journal article on communication and building a community through memes and sh*tposting. I then also took inspiration from The Penis Game and mixed these concepts together to create “CoronArt”.

When I started ideating the game mechanics, they were relatively simple. Players were to take turns drawing pictures that they felt were awkward or embarrassing and then had to put them up somewhere public without getting caught doing it. Each drawing had to be at least slightly larger than the last one drawn, and if players don’t complete their turn or drop out, they’re disqualified. The last player left standing is declared the winner.

The game loop also looked like this:

  1. In order of oldest to youngest, players take individual turns to draw a picture they find to be embarrassing.
  2. The player then has to secretly put that picture up in a public place where other people can easily see it. If somebody sees the player putting the picture up, they’re disqualified.
  3. The player then has to send evidence of the drawing to all other players, detailing the size and location of their drawing.
  4. The next player then has to beat the previous picture by making a larger drawing than the previous one drawn. If the player gives up or doesn’t complete their turn, they’re disqualified.
  5. The winner is the last player left to be disqualified.

I then began playtesting CoronArt with my sister, Sophie and decided to alter and update the game rules as we ran into roadblocks and issues. She lives very far away from me, and due to the pandemic, I can’t visit her, so she was the perfect playtester for my game. The first thing I realised was that it is very easy to escalate the stakes of the game too quickly. In my second turn, I drew a picture that was double the size of what Sophie had just drawn, putting extra pressure and difficulty on both of us very early on. If this had been a three or four-player game, things would have rapidly gotten out of hand, and the game wouldn’t have lasted long. Sophie said that she also found it somewhat intimidating, which impacted her motivation to play.

Another issue was that Sophie is the only person in a home of four that is known to draw regularly. Once we started playing, they immediately realised that she was the person doing it. While the initial intention was for the players to remain utterly secretive about the game, I bent the rules slightly to allow it to be known who is drawing the pictures and why, just as long as they don’t get caught. Otherwise, this would have broken the game.

She also struggled at times to find enough paper to draw on and began to feel a lot of pressure to make her turn quickly. I told her that she could draw on anything she could find, as long as it was removable or easy to clean (such as on pieces of cardboard or a whiteboard). From the beginning of our game, Sophie would take more time than me to make her turn, and I was considering adding a time limit to each turn so the game wouldn’t become stale. So it was decided that we could take as much time as needed to complete a turn since there’s no point in playing a game that only causes stress. However, there haven’t been any more turns made in our game since my last blog post on the topic, so I’m pretty sure she’s forgotten about CoronArt entirely.

Because of this, I decided to make two separate difficulty modes for CoronArt; Social Distancing and Quarantine Mode, with differing rules.

Social Distancing ModeQuarantine Mode
Casual experienceMore intense gameplay
No time limit on turnsTime limit on turns:
-Two players – one week to play a turn
-Three players – five days
-Four players – three days
If players fail to make their turn within the time limit, they are disqualified
No size limit on drawingsDrawings can’t exceed more than double the size of the previous drawing
Must show evidence only of the size and location of the drawing. Admitting to getting caught relies on an honour systemMust show size, location and recording of putting up without getting caught

I hope that by creating two different difficulties will address the issues of the game going stale with Quarantine Mode, or from becoming too stressful for players with Social Distancing Mode. Keeping in mind that most players will play by their own form of house rules, there’s a good chance that certain rules will be chosen or ignored depending on the preferences of the players (as well as inventing their own rules), creating new variations on the game. But I hope that by implementing these two sets of game rules to choose from, players will be able to participate in a way better suited to their pandemic-related situations.

When I first began explaining how the game was played to Sophie, she suggested a game mechanic that I wasn’t sure how to implement at first.

I liked the idea of rewarding artists for putting extra effort into their drawings. For a game focused on drawing and creativity, I didn’t feel like there was enough of an incentive for players to put effort into their drawings, and a reliable solution for this is to reward them for their work. However, I didn’t feel that it made sense to implement a point system, as Sophie suggested. Instead, I decided it would be more rewarding to be awarded the ability to skip a turn.

So the game loop now also looks like this:

  1. In order of oldest to youngest, players take individual turns to draw a picture they find to be embarrassing.
  2. The player then has to secretly put that picture up in a public place where other people can easily see it. If somebody sees the player putting the picture up, they’re disqualified.
  3. The player then has to send evidence of the drawing to all other players, detailing the size and location of their drawing.
  4. The next player then has to beat the previous picture by making a larger drawing than the previous one drawn. If the player gives up or doesn’t complete their turn, they’re disqualified.
  5. After each player has had one turn each, all remaining players will decide upon the best drawing of that round. The player that drew the picture will be rewarded with the ability to skip one turn.
  6. The winner is the last player left to be disqualified.

I also added new rules for implementing the skippable turn:

  • One player per round can be rewarded a skip by the rest of the group for drawing the strangest, funniest, most creative or most talented picture.
  • Players can’t be rewarded a skip on the same turn that they use one.
  • Players must unanimously decide who gets rewarded the skip.
  • Players can stockpile skips and use multiple in a row.
  • If the group can’t make a decision on which drawing is the best, nobody will be rewarded a skip for that round.

Hopefully, this will give the players more incentive to provide more attention to the actual drawing half of CoronArt.

When I first began to create CoronArt, I was concerned that the concept was going to be far too simple to be considered a game. But as I continued to revise and alter its issues and flaws, it gradually became much more complex, with various rules, difficulties, and mechanics added along the way.

For all of its kinks, my sister and I had fun playing this game. It’s created a lot of inside jokes between the two of us, and it gave us a chance to cheer each other up and make ourselves laugh during this strange and trying time. The images that we drew were strange and weird, and we put a lot of effort into trying to come up with something that would make the other person laugh.

CoronArt is still not a perfect game. I’m sure there are still ways that this game could be broken or interfered with that I still haven’t realised, and it will take more playtesting and ideation before this can be considered a complete game. However, while it’s not perfect, it works well enough for it to be fun to play.

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