Creating a Conversation About Homelessness with Storytelling

Misconceptions about the homeless interfere with attempts to help those in need. The Stray Case is an interactive story told in an RPG-style puzzle game format in which you play as a homeless character who finds herself on a mission to solve a mystery. Our goal of the game was to encourage empathy and to encourage the player into a conversation about homelessness.

In Collaboration with Jasmine Lopez



We were curious about the issue of homelessness because it’s something we see daily in Seattle. King County ranks 4th in homeless population for metro areas. Only the New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas areas have bigger homeless populations than King County.

When we took a closer look at the problem, we found there was a lack of empathy because of the misconceptions that surround homeless people. They’re human who have had unfortunate circumstances in their lives. They need help instead of being degraded by society. 

We thought a game, or interactive story, would be a good medium to help build empathy. Games let us walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes and let us take on a life or problem that we’d never have to experience in this world and in doing so help us understand a little bit about it.  

Games are great for supporting educational or activist programs where fostering empathy is the goal. Players can inhabit the roles and perspectives of other people in a uniquely immersive way.
— Belman, J. & Flanagan, M. Designing Games to Foster Empathy.



We started out by creating a story, characters and writing out a general script. It was interesting thinking about how good mysteries are written and how to make our story unique. We made a couple of story boards and maps of how we thought the game would be laid out. Along the way we decided that the characters would be represented by animals instead of humans. This way we didn’t have to be 100% accurate regarding details of homelessness.

Getting started with the code was very difficult. We chose to use a pretty well-known and highly regarded program called GameMaker which we were both unfamiliar with. We had to learn “GML” (GameMaker Language) which was a language similar to Java, and watched hours of online tutorials. 



Our solution wasn’t to solve homelessness or to initiate a call to action, but instead to build empathy. We chose a mystery game because it involves talking to other characters with an end goal in mind. Through interactions with NPCs the player will get an inside look of what homelessness is really like. Naturally, we also wanted the player to enjoy the experience as games are generally meant to be forms of entertainment.