Roots is a game of inventing words. Players combine Prefix and Suffix cards to create new words, competing for the best connection to a Subject card. Whoever delivers the best explanation for their word captures that Subject card, gaining a potential piece of their secret Win condition. But stay sharp: players can manipulate each other's progress with various Power cards, undermining opponents while advancing themselves. The result is narrative warfare in which the most creative, best spoken, and craftiest thrive.
I designed Roots: A Game of Inventing Words during my MFA in Creative Writing (Integrated Media) program at the California Institute of the Arts, from which I graduated last May.
My goal was to create a game which yielded non-linear narrative content, and in which subjective exchanges determined objective conclusions. Storytelling games face a unique challenge, since too many constraints inhibit what actually matters - players' creative freedom - while too few leave the outcome feeling arbitrary, undermining the experience of competition. Roots is thus a minimalist arena, providing just enough content and structure to prompt a core creative act (the invention of words) and then showcase the subsequent verbal interactions upon which victory hinges. Players deploy their values and life experiences because they must, blasting past small talk into abstract debate.
Additionally, by producing dozens of new (but grammatically sound) words each game, Roots is a generative experience for artists of all kinds. Words like "vesper-naut" might inspire a protagonist, "lun-ocracy" a whole setting. During play-testing, I always kept a notebook nearby.
Finally, Roots serves as a language learning tool by manipulating morphology, revealing how English words assemble their meaning. This insight improves reading comprehension, vocabulary, and standardized test performance for any student with basic English competence. Likewise, the task of articulating a new word's definition and connection to a subject promotes critical thinking and rhetorical skill. We've even had interest from mental health professionals for diagnostic applications.
Predicate, which assembled last May, consists of a creative director, a visual designer, a narrative designer (myself), a full-stack developer, and an architect. The studio provides product design and branding to various clients, but also develops and brings to market independent work. Roots was our first such product.