For the duration of this course, my colleagues and I have researching some aspect of food in New Mexico. The products thus far have manifested in numerous interviews and countless blog posts ranging from discussions about school lunches to a food map and analysis of a particular Albuquerque district. My intended outcome, to create a video game based on medicinal uses of food and herbal remedies, has branched into two projects. One, discussed below, is meant to demonstrate a game based on research that seeks to educate the player. The second, to be developed and discussed in a later post, is for the Sustainability Studies Program and, in addition to educating players, also seeks to raise awareness and provide a way to crowdsource the collection of data about bees on UNM campus.
I recently finished my first game for this course, The Lavender Cure. This PC game was built using RPG Maker VX Ace and is based on my research concerning medicinal herbs (a bibliography of what archives and texts I used is at the bottom of this post). If you click on the link contained in the title, you can download the game via my Google Drive and play it on your own computer. This is the first time I have used this program to create or share games, however, so if there are any issues in gaining access, please let me know.
The Lavender Cure is adapted around a typical JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game), a narrative structure and gameplay style that RPG Maker specializes in. If you are familiar with some of the original Final Fantasy games, Pokemon, or even more recent games such as Bravely Default, the games created within this software are meant to mirror them stylistically and in gameplay. This tool can be purchased and downloaded by anyone, and while the quality of games created vary, a few notable titles have resulted from this software. To the Moon, an indie Adventure RPG was created on RPG Maker, won several awards, and is noted as a brilliant and touching game.
The Lavender Cure is by no means on the same level as this game, but it does illustrate how accessible video games can be, both for players and people who want to design games. You do not have to have any knowledge of programming or coding in order to construct something in the program. RPG Maker even features its own selection of art to choose from and use to build the worlds and characters within the game. The style can be limiting, however, especially for a game that is meant to be set in New Mexico and feature non-fantasy-based discussions about healing and medicine. In spite of this, the overall structure of the software did have its benefits. RPGs on their own tend to be based around loose narratives and turn-based battle sequences (an optional feature), something that is easily adaptable to any plot-based scenario and immediately understood by players, a factor which should not be discounted in terms of outreach to a wider audience. These games tend to be very text-heavy, especially in the exposition, which works well for this project, which seeks to convey a lot of information as told through a narrative structure.
There was a lot to consider in constructing this game, and not just in regard to learning how to use RPG Maker. I have countless notes and references to different medicinal uses of herbs and I’ve looked through several texts about traditional healing practices. I even found a recipe-like box in the Center for Southwest Research which contained index cards that featured information about herbs, their medicinal properties (superstitious and medical), and their country of origin. But how is such information best displayed in a public history, video game format? History is inherently narrative and can be a very engaging topic, so the RPG-style and structure fit well in establishing a narrative arc for a player to progress through, learn about herbs, and complete a quest-like function. However, the dialogue must be approachable (colloquial as opposed to academic), the narrative should not be too complex (but not too linear where it oversimplifies history), and above all, it should be fun and something players want to play.
In the game, the player acts as Nina, a young girl visiting her Aunt Marygold who runs an herbal medicine and tea shop. Aunt Marygold, however, is ill. The family is currently out of lavender, the flower needed to brew tea to heal Marygold’s deteriorated physical and spiritual state. The player must then embark on a quest to find lavender and bring it back to her aunt. While a bit contrived and very short, this narrative allows Aunt Marygold to explain to Nina (and the player) why she needs lavender in spite of the availability of other medicine and provides a general description of what properties the flower holds. The Lavender Cure serves as a short example for the kinds of video games that can be created based on historical research and seek to convey educational information. In the future, it could be expanded to include more “levels,” wherein Nina would fetch more herbs and embark on a journey to become a curandera as based on the guidance of her aunt and further learn about the healing properties of plants on her path to become a traditional healer.
I do not have any current plans to add to this game as is; again, its intent was to provide an example of an educational game and how to apply research information to a playable, narrative arc. My next project with Sustainability Studies has a larger intent and will seek to boost awareness of the importance of bees in the community and provide a way to report bee sightings and incidents (i.e. did someone get stung) on campus. Because this game (tentatively titled The Buzz) has added motivations for its creation, I will have to consider how to not only convey educational information, but how to satisfy the requests of a third party and create a game that they can use and develop further to fit their needs.
Bibliography for The Lavender Cure
Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert Photograph Collection, University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research
Maclovia Sanchez de Zamora papers, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico
The Albuquerque Journal
Barrett, Patti. Growing and Using Lavender. Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, 1996.
Torres, Eliseo “Cheo” and Timothy L. Sawyer Jr. Curandero: A Life in Mexican Folk Healing. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
Torres, Eliseo. The Folk Healer: The Mexican-American Tradition of Curanderismo. Texas: Nieves Press, 1983.
Torres, Eliseo. Green Medicine: Traditional Mexican-American Herbal Remedies. Texas: Nieves Press, 1983.