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CyberShock 
An Exegesis 
Darpan Shukla 
P.G. 2nd Year - D.M.A. 
Mentor: Yadu Rajiv 

Genesis 
CyberShock​ is a competitive role-playing card game for two to eight players. It is set in a 
near-future where China’s Social Credit System is a global reality and where certain 
corporations engage in ‘personnel consultancy’. Its goal is to provide players with an 
engaging experience through gameplay and narrative design. 

But it wasn’t always like this. As an idea, CyberShock underwent significant changes 
throughout its development - early on, a personal interest in dating apps and their social 
dynamics drove my enquiry, gradually becoming a more comprehensive study. Initially, 
the focus was on how people use dating applications and telling their stories, in order to 
paint a picture of contemporary relationships and their perils. 

However, it became evident that dating apps are merely symptomatic of what I was 
really trying to get at: basic changes in the nature of our interpersonal relationships, 
brought about by the prevalence and accessibility of social media platforms.  
Virtual grooming, if you will. 

This epiphany caused my idea to evolve - I was now going to be dealing with the notion 
of changing social norms, not just in the dating world, but everywhere. Research into 
China’s upcoming Credit System further compounded the notion that this was an 
inevitability: B
​ lack Mirror​ was going to become our reality.  

Obvious enquiries arise - how far does this credit thing go? Does it determine which 
jobs a person can apply for?​ ​Or whether they can get a job at all? What about 
relationships and marriages? Policymakers, politicians and others in positions of power 

 
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would be affected by this system how? Would they be able to manipulate it to suit 
their needs and if so, what would the consequences be? Also, who the hell’s designing 
this system, anyway? 

These questions, which comprise just the tip of the iceberg, became the central themes 
of CyberShock, which had by now undergone multiple iterations as far as medium or 
format was concerned, as well. While my goal of creating a ‘playable, interactive 
experience’ has never changed - primarily because of my belief in interactive storytelling 
- the nature of this experience was in flux. 

Starting out as a video game, i.e. a digital experience playable on screens, it went 
through an experimental phase where I attempted to translate everything I’d been 
working on directly into board game format. This was unsuccessful, prompting me to 
return to a digital version, but personal limitations would prevent me from crafting the 
experience I had visualized. Thus, in an effort to come as close to what I had envisioned 
as possible, CyberShock has been developed in its present form. This is an excerpt of 
my earlier enquiry, to provide context: 

“We live in extremely interesting times. 

Today, people around the world are connected to an unprecedented degree. So much so that I 
don’t think it’s inappropriate to say that even my generation tends to feel out of touch, on 
occasion. 

From the deliciously paranoid and bleak vision of the future that is the standard B
​ lack Mirror 
episode to the meteoric rise of cryptocurrency and its subsequent impact on the distribution of 
contraband on the darkweb, it can hardly be denied that life in 2019 is - if nothing else - 
interesting. 

Amongst the myriad of new phenomena that constantly emerge from our apparently collective 
need to bond with each other - ranging from selfies to trolling - dating applications are a subject 
of personal fascination. It is my belief that their usage is highly indicative of a society’s mindset 
and speaks volumes about how comfortable the people who make up that society are with 
themselves. 

 
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That being said, I have several questions about these new norms and I’d like to focus my 
enquiry towards understanding them as best I can, which will aid me in crafting my experience.” 

The Experience 
Players will choose ​one of eight​ playable characters, each with their own unique 
biography, statistics and traits. Every character also has a unique ​Citizen Credit Rating 
(CCR) which will increase or decrease as the game progresses, and they all work for a 
megacorp. The prototype’s goal is to have the highest credit rating at the end of 10 
turns to ‘win’, although its design allows for longer formats of gameplay. 

Despite this initial setup, the game is slightly deceptive about its win state: having the 
highest CCR is a win state if you play by the rules, but a central component of this 
experience is player choice - if someone chooses to play the game differently, they may 
receive a more personally rewarding outcome than someone who has the highest score. 

This results in the nature of the game being uniquely positioned as indirectly 
competitive. Players can approach the game ruthlessly, putting personal gain above all 
else, and will actually be encouraged to do so. However, they can also attempt to avoid 
going against their own moral compass, even if this means losing their CCR, which, 
while not directly encouraged, is allowed.  

There are three broad outcomes to the game:  

1. Ending A - the default win state awarded to the player with the highest CCR. 
2. Ending B - players with lower CCRs will receive this outcome. 
3. Ending C - players with a lower CCR, but who meet certain conditions will receive 
this outcome. 

   

 
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Context and Position 


As a self-professed ‘gamer’, a personal goal for the project was to translate some of my 
learnings into a playable card game. Having several inspirations within the world of 
video games, a challenge from early on was being selective in my approach as to what 
I’d take and what was ignored. This proved to be an interesting exercise as I began to 
consider what mechanics would support my narrative as opposed to just what I found 
to be novel or cool. 

For example, the ​LISA​ series of games served as inspiration for the tone and overall feel 
of the world and its characters, while several adventure games were the foundation for 
gameplay. The most pertinent influence on my project, however, would have to be 
Papers, Please​ - a 2013 video game created by Lucas Pope, in which players control a 
government official at a border checkpoint. 

Set in a fictional country in an alternate 80s timeline, the game requires players to check 
passports and other documentation, approving or denying them as per their 
instructions. While this seems extremely mundane, or even boring, this simple premise 
belies the game’s nature. 

Over the course of their duties as a government official working under the glorious state 
of Arstotzka, players will be placed in a variety of morally ambiguous situations. This in 
turn creates memorable dilemmas that the player is forced to resolve, while weighing 
the pros and cons of these decisions. Also, these situations are tailored to the players 
profession as a customs official at a border checkpoint, which further immerses the 
player in this slice of alternate history. 

The players personal responsibilities to the game world are manifested as resources 
that the player can manage, such as their salary, which can be utilized in a variety of 
ways. As an added caveat, the state demands efficiency and competence from all of its 
employees - if the player slips up in any way, they will be notified of the state’s 
knowledge of their mistake, three of these notifications resulting in a game over. 

 
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All of these elements combine to create a compelling, memorable experience that 


stays with players long after they have completed it. These core aspects of ​Papers, 
Please​ have always been central tenets throughout CyberShock’s development. My 
project seeks to evoke a similar dilemma within players, as evidenced by its design and 
certain aspects of its narrative. 

The project is being conceived and developed as a ​working prototype​ of a game. This is 
primarily because I want to use the medium as a platform for participation. I do not wish 
to make a film or a similar output because I want players to engage with the game, 
consciously driving the action forward. I want them to play with a story, as opposed to 
being told a story. 

Elaborating upon my perception of the difference between the two, some of the most 
memorable experiences in my life have come from the media I’ve been exposed to. 
Certain shows, books, movies or certain kinds of music have had an enormous 
influence on the person I grew up to be. However, storytelling in video games has 
consistently left me speechless. Ever since I was six or eight years old and witnessed 
the unadulterated awesomeness that was ​Final Doom​, I knew that was where it was at. 

From then on, a plethora of other experiences - ranging from the ultraviolent to the heart 
wrenchingly poignant - have all shaped my understanding of how to tell stories. It’s now 
reached the point where almost anything I absorb in another medium prompts me to 
think of what it could be like as a game. 

In a more specific sense, I firmly believe my project can only truly come to life as a 
game. This is mainly because of the differences between games and other mediums 
when it comes to the dissemination of a narrative. A story being told visually needs to 
follow certain conventions and formats in order to be most effective - I can only show 
so much in a given time. A game, conversely, allows players to explore a handcrafted 
world at their own pace.  

So, instead of directing a viewer’s attention to something in specific, I can create an 
interesting space full of little touches and quirks that users can discover as they play. 

 
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This has always been an enchanting hallmark of games: they can imbue their users 
with a powerful sense of wonder, amusement, curiousity or even fear, should they 
choose to. 

This is why I would like to create a playable story as opposed to one that can only be 
viewed. 

Goals 
1. Narrative Focus: ​Storytelling is the central pillar upon which this experience is 
built. Players should feel some sense of familiarity and relatability to the world 
they find themselves in, which in turn will drive their desire to learn about it. 

2. Role-playing:​ Providing players with a pool of premade characters to choose 


from presents unique advantages as well as pitfalls. Players will resonate with 
and play as the persona they relate to.  

3. Tone: ​CyberShock is aimed at an older audience and will feature settings, dialog 
and themes which pay homage to dark satire and black humor, much like certain 
other titles in a similar vein. 

4. Choices & Consequences:​ Reactivity is an important part of the overall 


experience; when the game asks to player to make certain decisions, there are 
multiple outcomes which can ensue - as basic as having the choice to perform 
an errand and the repercussions of acceptance or refusal. 

5. Working Prototype:​ Creating a playable prototype is the ultimate goal. Even if 
certain features do not make it to this final version, as long as it can be 
completed from beginning to end while telling its story, I will be content. 

   

 
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Employee Orientation 
In the (hopefully improbable) near future, technocracy reigns supreme. 

Congratulations, you’ve been hired! 


Welcome to Metamorph Corp.  

Our organization specializes in big data consultancy, which is where you come in: the 
analysis of a person’s digital footprint - every site they visit, every purchase they make, 
every picture they take or message they send - is your job. If it’s in the cloud, you’ve got 
access to it. 

These analyses are then forwarded along to higher-ups who then deal with the individual 
in question, ranging from promotions to criminal sentencing. While we in no way conflict 
with the justice system of our society, everyone, from corporations to the government 
relies on the recommendations of companies like ours to expediently take decisions 
that will forever change people’s lives. 

Over the course of your time as an employee at Metamorph Corp., you may be tempted 
to exercise your ‘free-will’, go against your profile and do something that, to you, seems 
like a good idea. Please, ​do not a
​ ct upon these urges, as we have found that they 
frequently stem from a moral disagreement on the employees’ part. If you feel like too 
much is being asked of you, please schedule an appointment with our Director of 
Human Resources, who will take the appropriate steps to counsel you. 

Finally, please report to your cubicle on time, remember to provide identification and 
records of your presence at all times and have a productive day! 

   

 
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Dramatis Personae 
These are some of the people and factions that make up the world of CyberShock: 

1. Metamorph Corp., Inc. 


The eponymous organization you work for and global leader in big data 
consultancy. And yes, it is a fully functioning corporate entity, worthy of 
characterization. Sentience hasn’t been determined yet, but whatever. 

2. Mr. Orwell 
Your immediate supervisor and someone you will come into frequent contact 
with. Is a natural at mass surveillance, which presumably makes him better at his 
job. Not really someone whose bad side you’d want to get on.  

3. Budget Location Optimization Bot, or BLOB 


A quirky little bot that you will come into contact with over the course of your 
duties at MetamorphCorp. May come in handy if you’re looking to stick it to the 
man, but who in their right mind would want to do that? 

4. Fringe elements 
Ever wonder what happens to people who get fired? Or who fail to have a 
satisfactory footprint? Aside from the institutionalized, they just seem to fall off 
the grid. Identification is no longer updated, records come to an abrupt halt. For 
better or worse, these people simply cease to exist, as far as the world at large is 
concerned. 

5. The Rat Pack 


From manic depressives to cult leaders, your coworkers represent voices of 
reason, usually. Hang out at the Recreation Center, or maybe listen in on the 

 
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grapevine at the techno-equivalent of the water cooler. Just don’t let ‘em 
distract you from your job - it is a dog-eat-dog world, after all. 

Gameplay 
The game will consist of a single deck of cards, eight separate character sheets and 
some tokens, which will serve as markers. Players will select their character and use the 
appropriate sheet throughout the game. The deck of cards contains 10 special ‘Profiles’ 
which will be placed in a separate, smaller deck next to the larger, central deck. 

Players will draw a card, in turn, and resolve its requirements before discarding it, face 
up, next to their character sheet. This will continue until the end of the prescribed turn 
limit, at which time the victor will be decided. 

The basic gameplay loop involves drawing cards from the central deck, resolving the 
conflict it presents, if any, before switching over to other players and repeating the 
process. The player is given certain choices which will allow them to make certain 
decisions that may surprise even them.. 

The inclusion of reactivity in the form of choices and their consequences is tied to 
creating two distinct scenarios: 

a.) The player follows their orders and does their job, which results in being rewarded by 
the personification of the organization 

b.) The player indulges in excessively independent behavior, resulting in reprimands, 


eventual termination and a possible encounter with the aforementioned fringe elements 
of society. 

While this is an interesting premise, replayability was not a focus. Evidently, multiple 
playthroughs of the game may result in players dismissing certain playstyles as wrong. 
The only way to really ‘win’ the game, short of not playing it, is to strike a careful balance 
between serving an impersonal system and following one’s own moral compass.  

 
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As a design decision, I believe this makes for a more memorable one-time 


experience as opposed to a more traditional setup like ​Monopoly o
​ r ​Cluedo​, which were 
designed keeping replayability in mind. 

Development and Possible Futures 


CyberShock is being envisioned as an adventure RPG, or role-playing game. As such, its 
development has undergone changes in making the transition between mediums. 
Initially being developed for PCs, the final prototype is a card game, designed from the 
ground up, keeping the intricacies of the medium in mind. 

My developmental process mainly consisted of pen and paper prototyping as well as 
playtesting. The final playable prototype will consist of a printed deck of cards, sheets 
and tokens that will be used to setup the game. 

Supplementals 
Please note, artefacts that will supplement this document during my presentation 
include visual compilations and images of my process. A playable prototype will also be 
included. 

Reflections 
My capstone has been an incredible experience, predominantly because of the degree 
of autonomy that comes with it. Being able to define a personal area of interest and use 
it as the basis for my work has been immensely gratifying.  

In addition, the evolution of my ideas over time and through seminars has been more 
pronounced here than ever before - the gradual development of my work in this manner 
has allowed my to recognize a personal creative practice related to what I’d like to do in 
the future. 

 
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The challenges presented by this project, i.e. its transformation and growth, are 
unique: developing a setting in which my ideas would make sense and be engaging, 
creating a ruleset that defined the experience, or even modifying said ruleset to fit 
another medium entirely, to name a few. While seeking to overcome these, my craft is 
improving as my process becomes more clearly defined.  

Overall, working on CyberShock has been an adventure of sorts, and I look forward to its 
future. 

Conclusion 
The development of CyberShock is an eye-opening, reaffirming experience. Interactive 
experience design is an incredible way to tell stories and this card game serves as a 
personal reminder of my strengths and capabilities, which I would like to build upon.  

   

 
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References 
Primordia ​- h
​ ttp://www.wadjeteyegames.com/games/primordia/ 

Sam and Max: Hit the Road​ - h


​ ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_%26_Max_Hit_the_Road 

Gods will be Watching​ - h


​ ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gods_Will_Be_Watching 

Articles on Medium: 
https://medium.com/popular-science/artificial-intelligence-thinks-your-face-is-full-of-data-could-
it-actually-unmask-you-4f4f07aad340 

https://medium.com/forbes/are-machines-conscious-938dc794c8ce 

https://medium.com/@AItheist/humanitys-search-for-meaning-in-the-age-of-ai-and-automation-
18c850544502 

https://onezero.medium.com/can-govtech-save-the-government-and-tech-f7890801293c 

https://medium.com/aeon-magazine/what-are-the-values-that-drive-decision-making-by-a-i-eafb
c2517392 

An article on the ‘Dating Revolution’ 


https://www.bbc.com/news/business-42988025 
 
Tinder Usage Stats 
http://www.businessofapps.com/data/tinder-statistics/ 
 
Tinder Truths 
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-digitally/201610/the-surprising-truth-about-wh
y-people-use-tinder 
 
User Psychology 
https://www.health.com/sex/real-reason-people-using-tinder 
 
In Defense of Dating Apps 
https://medium.com/@SarahH03/in-defense-of-dating-apps-1ad6507853c5 
 

 
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Tinder Alternatives 
https://www.health.com/relationships/venmo-is-ruining-dating 
 
Withdrawal Symptoms? 
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/dating-apps-quit-what-happened-bumble-tind
er-happn-hinge-millennials-a8427471.html 
 
A Character Sprite Tutorial 
http://decembirth.tumblr.com/post/138474477636/shelbbys-lisa-style-sprite-tutorial 
 
Fangame Resources (for personal asset creation) 
http://lisa-rpg.wikia.com/wiki/Basic_Fangame_Resources 
 
Dramatic Elements of Games and Narrative Design 
http://www.acagamic.com/courses/infr1330-2014/dramatic-elements-of-games-and-narrative-
design/ 
 
Creating a Great Design Document 
https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131632/creating_a_great_design_document.php