“Forgotten Upon Death”: An Interview with Ian Gregory on Class and Poverty in ‘Masquerada’

“. . . there’s this whole class of people who are literally forgotten upon death.”

Written by Drew Dixon / Published on April 7, 2017

Ian Gregory is the co-founder and creative director for the game Masquerada: Songs and Shadows. We recently chatted with him about the game’s unique narrative and social commentary.

Tell me a little bit about Masquerada. What makes it unique?

I think what makes Masquerada unique is that we’re really trying to focus on the story more than anything else. So it’s actually a very linear experience, but it’s paced in such way that it feels as though you’re going through a really good show that you’re playing through. Aside from that, combat is unique in the sense that you can play both in real time or while paused. When you’re playing in real time, more often than not you’re going to be playing one character, running around and doing things, but whenever you pause you start giving instructions to your whole party. So you actually get two very different game play feels. One feels more Diablo-ish or MOBA-ish, while on the other hand you have something that feels tactical, with a more Baldur’s Gate feel to it.

I also noticed as I was playing that the story has some class themes. What are you trying to say about poverty or class or those sort of things?

The one thing that defines this particular city is that masks are the only way to use magic. Because no one knows how to make masks anymore, they’re a diminishing commodity. That means only the very rich have them, and that creates a very clear divide in the city. You literally wear your wealth on your face. There’s something more important than just wealth in this as well, because this is a city that is atheistic. They don’t believe in gods. So when an individual dies he’s gone. They believe that he’s gone forever. So as humans they need to deal with this loss of life, and how they do it is that when you pass away, a song is written for you. Your hopes, your dreams—everything gets encompassed in this song. But only people with masks are allowed to have songs. So that means there’s this whole class of people who are literally forgotten upon death.

If you had to narrow it down to one thing, what do you hope a player gains from their experience with your game?

Aside from gameplay, a bigger picture idea is we want people to get in touch with their humanity. There are a lot of very human stories [in this game]. For each of the main characters as you follow them through this, you unfold their story, and you see all of them burdened by life and what it’s all about. And yet, they still find a way to rally around each other and make their way through all those difficulties. The humanity of games is what we really want to push.

Last question I like to ask developers is: why do you make games? What drives you to make games?

Joy—the idea of having somebody find joy in what I do. One story that really spoke to me a lot is that in one of our previous games I got an email from a Marine captain who was posted to Afghanistan at the time, and he said, “You know, one thing I look forward to after surviving a mission is to sit down and play your game.” That meant the world to me because it meant that for all the difficulties in life, he could turn to something to make himself happy, and we played a part in that.