Since, techincally, Paper Cranes is a fancy thesis project for my BFA, I've written a whole lot of opinions and reflection on the process of its creation, its content, and so forth. I wanted to include it with this site, but with one caveat: I don't want these ideas to override any conclusion that might be made by a player. What is below are my truths: not universal, not all-encompasing. If you're interested in that sort of thing, well, here you go.
It should also be mentioned that here be spoilers (and that some of this stuff won't make sense if you haven't played the game).
What is Paper Cranes?
Good question, hypothetical person I just made up! In some sense, Paper Cranes is my proof-of-concept of all of this research and theory about how video game development--the creation and expression of a narrative in an interactive medium--can function as a therapeutic action, as art therapy. In this context, the content of Paper Cranes isn't as important as its sheer existence, because the process of creation is where introspection and self-realization occurs.
But, because personally as an artist intent and meaning is important to me, and because I communicate mostly through narrative, Paper Cranes is, at the most basic level, a story about identity, about the things that define us (ourselves, the people in our lives, our environments), and about accepting who you are as a person.
These themes are shown through the player character, Hase, and the scenarios she must overcome. Each event that Hase must confront (The Cells with their shadow deziens, memories of first trauma, and her own existence and its implications) causes her to grow and come to terms with the type of person she is, her aspirations, her values, and how she is an amalgam of many elements (shown by her interactions with Katz, the companion character). Through these events, Hase must stand up to her own self-destructive thoughts (characterized by Gauner, the antagonist character), and become a whole, instead of a fragment of a self.
In briefer terms, Paper Cranes is an illustration of my own internal struggles, expressed in an interactive medium in order to not only create a narrative, but for me to make sense of these conflicts and maybe even connect with a player who might share these struggles.
What is the reasoning behind your aesthetic choices?
The aesthetic choices of this project are actually pretty layered: on a surface level, it's one of nostalgia, pop culture, and personal connection. Graphics like these were and are a huge part of my life and my identity throughout—my childhood was spent around games that look like this, honestly. They were a way for me to connect with my older brother and my friends, and they've remained a congregation point for those extremely important people in my life today—people who have impacted my identity throughout time. Since this is a project about identity, mainly my identity, and how it is defined by external and internal forces, the aesthetic choices reflect that. This project is, in many regards, a self-portrait.
There's probably an element of anti-elitism in it as well: a lot of the research that has coupled with this project—this concept of game development as a form of art therapy—is about the accessibility of the medium, for players, yes, but now and more importantly for creators. The field of game development has opened up so much for people of every skill level, allowing more diverse games to be created, more voices to be heard, and more people who can express themselves through this medium. This look in particular communicates an aesthetic experience to a certain generation; one that I feel has been alienated from the museum. With the aesthetic choices of this project, I want to expand the boundaries of what we consider is a museum piece, and what we think is a museum all together.
Ok, but why the rabbit?
The art answer: I express myself through the avatar of a rabbit because of a personal connection with the animal, with the implications of it being an herbivore, of treading lightly upon the world, of luck being reduced to a single part.
The real answer: I really don't know. I like bunnies. I drew a comic about myself and my worldview three years ago where the main character was a bunny but was also me pretty much. Since then, bunnies everywhere.
What's the symbology of the character designs (ie: why does Katz look "evil" if she' helps the protagonist?)
Hase is meant to represent innocence and purity, but also passivity. She's also the lens through which the player views the world of the game, the "white rabbit" that leads the player to understand the literal and figural implications of The Cells. Hence, she's white and has rounded features (almost a child-like implication), but is dressed primarily in darker colors, a characterization of depression and self-doubt.
Katz is aggressive protectiveness: she's the voice for Hase that tells her that she's not a failure, that she's not a waste, and how dare she tell that to herself. Thus she's characterized by angular features, an element of her sharp personality. But Katz is also trapped in The Cells, much like Hase, and can only find escape and solace with her. She is the yin to Hase's yang, for lack of a better explanation: she's dark while Hase's light, she's sharp while Hase's round--they complete each other.
Gauner is kind of an anomaly: despite being called the "antagonist", he's never really presented as traditionally "bad" or "evil" or whatever buzzword you want to use to describe a villain. I more or less think of him as a "trickster": he never lies, but he's also kind of a huge jerk, and is a manifestation of Hase's self-doubt and self-destruction. So he's half and half: he's a shadow creature not unlike Katz, but the white gloves and mask imply that he's also related to Hase in some way. However, there's importance that the white in his design is in the mask and gloves, things he uses to hide his true appearance. He presents himself as Hase's guide, but ultimately aims to sabotage Hase's escape: the mask and gloves are a lie, much like Hase's negative projections are a lie, and yet she can't get rid of them.
So, the hospital segment…?
Is really literal, I know. The hospital segment is probably one of the most literal things about the game, and I hesitated about including it, but it was what has spurred the direction of a lot of my art, so I couldn't leave it out.
During my freshman year of college--a time already rife with change and stress and confusion and a whole mess of other stuff--my mom was hospitalized and for a while no one knew what was wrong. I was home for a brief time, and then back at school, two hours away, and all I could do was wait. Wait until someone found out what was wrong (it wasn't cancer, thank God). Wait until she had surgery. Wait until I could talk to her. Wait until someone said everything was ok. Wait until she said she was ok.
It was the first time I was ever really—like really and truly—confronted with the fact that one day the people that I love and owe so much to will die.
So that's why the hospital segment is there. That's why the hospital is abandoned except for one room. Because there were people in that hospital. There were nurses and doctors moving around and other patients, but none of that was important.
The only things that were important were my mom, and the fact that that hallway felt so long, endlessly long, and I had to walk down it. And that one day, things might not be ok at the end of it.
Why the nonlinear "middle" part?
Part of it was to give a little more feel of player agency: you're not just being lead down a story path, you do have some say in the order of it, and there are some pieces that you have to put together from the segments in order to figure out the ending.
But it's also based on a general nature of how those scenarios exist in my own head: to some extent I remember events linearly, but most of the time I jump around and thoughts sort of come in and out of focus. The more I thought about it, the more having the three scenarios be nonlinear made sense to me, especially because the scenarios aren't really linear themselves--you can explore Hase's room in any order you want, for example.
What's the symbology of the color of the worlds?
I tried to pick colors based on the overall feel I wanted to evoke from each environment: I leaned toward a muted color palette throughout because they resonate with the overall feel of the ideas presented in the game: the only place that's extremely bright is the end, to give a contrast between being trapped by one's thoughts and insecurities and being at peace with them.
The Cells are muted but busy, to give an almost claustrophobic feel to the rooms: they are where Hase and Katz are trapped, where they must escape from.
The Hospital is brighter, but again in a claustrophobic and sterile way: it's not a comforting saturation, it's an uneasy one, to communicate that Hase doesn't want to be there, that whatever exists in this space is not good.
The Room, however, while still muted and desaturated, is meant to be "comfier", because it's Hase place of solace. I imagine the color palette of the Room as typifying a rainy day: one where you just want to curl into a blanket and listen to music as the rain makes that staccato sound as it bounces off of the windows.
What's the importance behind Paper Cranes being a game?
This answer is basically the same answer behind the aesthetic choices, but more importantly: games are important to me. I know that sounds a little simple, but I think there's something about a game and conveying a story and a message through that medium that you can't get out of an animation or a book or a comic. There's no lack of immersion in those mediums, but there's something deeper to a game, especially one that deals with such a personal narrative: it's a direct communication between creator and player, and it's a communication that lends itself more naturally to a specific audience, one that's familiar with the language of games innately.
I know the gameplay of Paper Cranes isn't particularly innovative, but gameplay isn't my focus. My focus is story, narrative, the characters, the themes and messages portrayed. Does that make Paper Cranes less of a game? Maybe, but that depends on your definition of game, and for me, it doesn't. So call it a game, call it an interactive narrative, whatever floats your boat. I'm cool with it, and it doesn't detract from the fact that communication through this medium is important, especially because it is something becoming more accessible to people who don't particularly have skills in programming.