His game was branded by Symantec as a security threat. In Lose/Lose (quoting Mike), players took part in a space invaders clone with a twist - each alien represented a file on their computer, and destroying a baddie would actually delete the file. We've already discussed this issue in length, so now it's time to find out what the developer has to say about his game.


Hi Zach, before we begin, can you introduce yourself to our readers and also fill us in on your game development background?

My game development background is really limited. I spent some time when I was in middle-school making tiny games that never really got released dreaming of being a game developer. After that I spent some time taking computer science courses in high-school but ended up going to college and getting a degree in fine arts. It wasn't until the end of my time there that I came back to programming, and started to bring it into some of my projects for my thesis show.

After college I took a year off before going to Parsons: The New School for my MFA and around then I started getting really into developing with OpenFrameworks and the iPhone SDK and kind of fell back into game-making as a way to explore interaction and then eventually as a way to push some of my other more art angled pieces.

Basically I've been doing this game making thing for a few months. I made an iPhone game called Unify, and after going to IndieCade right after Lose/Lose came out and I met a lot of really talented game developers and realized maybe I'm a game developer now.


Why did you make Lose/Lose in the first place? And what was the real reason or motivation behind the idea?

The very first motivation behind the idea was that I wanted to make a game that made me feel an emotion that I'd never felt from a videogame before. I've been really interested in the past with projects like Eddo Stern's Tekken Torture Tournament and how they take aspects of games (things like pain) and make them real. Making that kind of aspect of a game real is very strange.

I always felt like Eddos project was really amazing from a human interaction standpoint. But it felt kind of like cheating because he was rigging up a physical thing to create physical pain, so I came up with this idea of trying to create tangible pain while staying in the virtual space entirely, which is what Lose/Lose attempts to do by deleting your files if you chose to be violent in it. It seemed interesting enough for me to create the project.

After I made it I thought more about what all that meant, what were the larger ramifications of having a game that could cause you tangible pain, and that led me to think about why it is that loss of our data could have such an impact on us. And that led to some of the other points that I made with the game in the statement that was released with it.

More aspects of the project evolved after that, when it blew up and when security companies got involved and my thinking about the game expanded, but that was the initial impetus.


How long did it take you to create Lose/Lose?

It took roughly nine hours of the scariest development I've ever done.


Scary in what sense? And in regards to testing the game, how did you go about doing it?

I changed the structure by which it deletes files so that I could anticipate where it would be digging, and then I filled that space with files. Another way I tested was by disabling the deletion part and making sure the game component worked.

It was scary because I had to make sure it could make it's way through a hard-drive, so when I was testing that component, I had to essentially run it live but at targeted areas of my hard-drive.. but if I played it for too long, it could get out of those areas and so I had to be careful about that.


Did you get actual testers to test out the game before release?

I tested it on a computer with files I wasn't concerned about, but besides that I didn't get any other testers.


Are those features you've mentioned (e.g. disabling deletion) still in the release build?

They aren't.


Any reasons why Lose/Lose is only available as a Mac build, and not Windows? Any plans for ports?

To be honest the main reason Lose/Lose is on the Mac is because I use Macs most of the time, and I'm more familiar with developing on them. I've thought about doing a windows port, but right now it's up in the air.

The reason for this is 1, I'm less familiar with the Windows operating system and ways that people could hack or disable parts of the game, and 2. I feel like since the game isn't particularly meant to be played, but more thought about and discussed, that it's made its point, and making a Windows port would only add to the destructive nature of the game and people using it to damage other people's computers, and that really isn't my goal.

That said, I'd still like people to be able to play it if they want to, so it could happen.


Is the deletion permanent, or are there ways to restore the damage done by Lose/Lose?

It doesn't securely delete the files, no. It just does a normal remove on them, so I suppose you could recover the files with file recovery programs potentially if you can figure out what is gone.


Now that you've made one very popular game, what's next?

I'm not on a particular mission, so I don't really know, but I have a lot of projects on my plate. I'm working with a friend on an iPhone version of a pretty prolific digital art piece that should be out in a month or so. I'm in grad school now in the middle of my MFA thesis, so I have to finish that up. Also I'm working on adding multiplayer to my iPhone block dropping game Unify, and I have a number of other games that I'm in the middle of. In the more physical art realm, I'm working on a set of antagonistic books. So I have many things to work on.


Any plans for a sequel to Lose/Lose? Perhaps future improvements, new features, or maybe a version where players can actually win?

Not at this point. I'm not really into dwelling on a project. I feel like Lose/Lose is pretty self-contained as to it's message, and I'd rather take what I learned from it and move on to other interesting things.


And why did you title the game Lose/Lose? What's the story behind the name?

haha. I feel like it's pretty evident. The game is a lose/lose situation. It makes reference to lose/lose situations in our own lives, and the idea that even though there are many times that we know doing something is a bad idea, we do it anyway. Sometimes making these bad decisions leads to long term consequences that we couldn't predict, and sometimes it only leads to the short term ones we knew would happen. Ironically, I didn't realize when I released the game, that like lose/lose situations in physical space, people would take part in overtly lose/lose situations in the virtual one too. That I guess is why some people ended up actually playing it.


Perhaps some people are positive, and they believe that they could overcome anything, even in situations where there is absolutely no hope.

It's possible. But not in Lose/Lose, which I guess is the convenience of operating in a virtual space. I'm given the affordance of making all the rules. Of course, you could find a way outside of the game to come up with your own win state.

You could play and not kill anything and simply fly through enjoying the generative landscape of aliens until you die, or you could download the game, and then delete it, or you could choose not to download the game. I feel like all of those to me would feel like a victory, and there may be many more that I haven't referenced.

So those things too reference actual life lose/lose situations, and the idea that just because there are no defined positive outcomes, you can still come up with a solution for yourself, or you can find a way to learn from a negative situation, and get some positive results. It's not meant to be a negative game. I feel like just discussing it without playing it is a win state.


Has anyone actually sent you hate mail for the game? what was the best and worst feedback you had received for Lose/Lose?

Someone sent me an email where the subject was "You are a fucking idiot!", and the body was: "Fuck you!". And that was the only hate mail I got. Also someone wrote a really fantastic fanfic about the game that turned into a negative response in it's second part. But the first part was great.

Besides that, the real best feedback I got was probably just having it open the door for me to being able to talk to all sorts of amazing game developers at indiecade like Brenda Brathwaite, Greg Wohlwend, Daniel Benmergui, and others. Also hearing from Rod Humble who really enjoyed the concept was a highpoint.


What's your opinion on Symantec's action of defining Lose/Lose as a virus?

Well, specifically they defined it as a Trojan. I view Lose/Lose as 'Dangerous Software'. Unfortunately we don't have that term, and I think the lack of that term is demonstrative of the lack of maturity with which we treat the software medium. I'm ok with anti-virus companies labeling it as Malware because I recognize that they are in the business of over-reacting so as to protect their users from absolutely everything. I disagree that it could be considered malware though because it was not designed to be malicious, and that's the primary aspect of malware.

Calling it a Trojan is just absurd though, since the primary aspect of trojans is that they're secretive, and Lose/Lose tells you exactly what it's doing. It's also not a virus, because viruses spread and Lose/Lose does the opposite, it removes itself.


Do you consider Lose/Lose an art game? And what kind of feedback are you expecting from the IGF judges this year?

It's an interesting question. I actually have no idea what kind of feedback to expect. I would term it an art game, if only because it is an art piece that involves a game. But, I am only newly potentially a game developer, much less an art game developer, so this is a new world for me.

Greg (Wohlwend) encouraged me to submit it. I wasn't initially going to because I wasn't sure how people would actually play it if it got accepted to IGF, but everyone else seems to consider it an art game, and I guess if I'm making something I consider art and it's a game than thats what it must be by definition.

It's kind of a loaded question, is something art or is it not. I guess it's art if whoever is looking at it thinks it's art and since it's clearly a game, then it would be an art game.

Mostly i'm excited for any sort of feedback from the IGF judges. Any kind of critical academic feedback is always exciting for me regardless of opinion.