Final Project – Witness

Ruiting Ji & Melisa Badea

Instructor Carolyn Jong

English 255B – Video Games and/as Literature

April 18th, 2017


 The bystander effect is a social-psychological phenomenon: in a moment of urgency, as the number of bystanders (people present but not involved in a situation) increases, the likelihood of those bystanders helping out decrease. Our game, Witness, is a simulation game where the player is incited to fall victim to the bystander effect. We are doing so with “procedural rhetoric [which] entails persuasion—to change opinion or action” (Bogost, p.29).

     In Witness, the player is getting ready for work as we follow their daily routine towards the pursuit of a clearly defined goal (arrive to work on time and deliver a good presentation). Since the player is pressed for time (there is a countdown on the bottom left corner stating how many minutes are left) and they are given one to four options per each situation that they encounter, the game creates a sense of urgency and pushes the player to make a selfless choice (help others) or a selfish choice (be well perceived at work).

     Furthermore, we establish constraints that limit the behaviour of the player and give reasons to the player to not take action against aggressive behaviour, bullying, sexual harassment, etc. The main constraint is one of time, letting the player in their every choice how much time they have spend, and how much time they have left. Other constraints include the use of language: ambiguous descriptions of the scene, asking the player if they are sure in their choice, etc. Those uncertainties and unclear moralities mirror the results of some of the factors that causes the bystander effect, such as consciousness of the surroundings, getting distracted by other things (in Witness, the fear of being late for a presentation), pluralistic ignorance, diffusion of responsibility, etc. (Ray, 2011) In sum, Witness forces the player to take uncomfortable and difficult decisions.

     Through Witness, we are arguing that the bystander effect can affect everyone, and that more often than not, we go through the process of rationalizing our own decisions and assume that they are right. Besides the countdown of time left, there are no clear feedback whether the player did the right thing in attempt to help. There are no explicitly stated consequences to not helping, nor to spending time helping out others and being late: it is down to the rationalization of the player towards what is important or not. In a way, then, Witness is a critique of games in which moral choices are clear cut, as the moral choice in Witness are very muddy, with no clear right or wrong.

Witness is a text-based game made with Twine. The game is accessible for everyone online.

Game link here:


Ian, Bogost. Excerpts from “Procedural Rhetoric.” In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007. 1-39.

Williams, Ray. “Why We Stand By And Don’t Help.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 24 Oct. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.


Final Project – Witness

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