Abstract Details

The Bad Times Or An Droch Shaol

This practitioner-based submission addresses the challenges of adapting a linear graphic novel as an interactive experience. The Bad Times is historical fiction told by means of illustrations that engages the reader through characters, dialogue, plot, conflict, and a vivid recreation of the world and setting of the tragedy of the Irish Great Hunger in the mid 19th century. On one level it has a simple theme of survival. But as the story unfolds the moral and ethical choices that confront the characters, point to a broader theme: individuals caught in a human-caused disaster not of their own making. This resonates today as we witness similar contemporary tragedies: e.g. the Rohingya in Myanmar or the famine and starvation due to the civil war in Yemen.

This presentation discusses strategies for adapting the ‘Bad Times’ into an interactive visual novel where the player follows the stories of Dan, Brigit, and Liam as they try to survive the Famine. The game focuses on the choices the characters and player will make, the story changing based on what they pick. These choices ultimately decide the characters’ fate-the replayability of the game coming from the different endings that the player may encounter in the game. Additionally, there may be a context sensitive menu with a button that the players can click to learn more about the real-life context of a scene.

This game and the graphic novel which it is based on is enlivened by the author’s research into first-hand eye-witness accounts found in primary and secondary sources made available in the collection of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University as well as other libraries and collections. However, the key inspiration was visual. Author Christine Kinealy explains her motivation for writing ‘The Bad Times’:?


“The Bad Times” (or, An Droch Shaol) was inspired by a painting by Daniel MacDonald, entitled ‘Irish Peasant Children’, which was created around 1846 – just as the tragedy of the Great Hunger was unfolding in Ireland. The three children in it are beautiful and haunting.”


The painting is owned by Quinnipiac University and every time I saw it, I wondered, ‘What happened to these children during the Famine?’, and, more broadly, ‘How did children – the most vulnerable group in any society, survive this catastrophe?’ As we know, in any famine, children are the most group that experience the highest levels of mortality.””

Around the same time, I met Boston based artist, John Walsh, and a collaboration was born when we decided to collaborate on a graphic novel. John captures with his art work a sadness and a desperation that thousands of written words could not convey. The three children in ‘The Bad Times’, are loosely based on those in MacDonald’s painting, but with the addition of a loyal collie dog called Cú. And Cú is based on my own dog of the same name.”


Take-aways include a novel re-telling of the famine; a model for translating a linear narrative into an interactive game; a ‘persuasive’ game allowing players to literally walk in the shoes of the characters, confronting the same ethical and moral decisions.

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