Two years ago, Johnson & Johnson cynically bought the top-level domain .baby (dot baby), seemingly in an effort to corner the concept of babies on the internet. A top-level domain can be purchased by anybody if they pay ICANN enough money. They’re also hilarious and charming, and every time I hear about an idiosyncratic TLD, I fire up my domain registrar’s admin panel and put a few in to see if I can pick up a cool newly-available domain name. This practice is getting increasingly dated as more and more TLD’s hit the internet.
Since my name is Jordan, and that’s also the name of the country, I’ll probably never get a domain name that is my first name dot somethingelse. I always try anyway. jordan.baby was not available, with no explanation. I assume the government of Jordan has these on lock, but who knows. Maybe it’s a baby named Jordan. Anywho, on April 5th, 2019, I purchased dungeon.baby on a whim. I wasn’t yet in game design school but I had already been tinkering with game ideas, and I think I had already been admitted to game design school but hadn’t started.
Once you start making games, every new TLD to hit the internet becomes an activity where you try to find a game that matches a great domain name. Dot baby was no exception: games where you play as a baby are interesting and weird. Someone beat me to the punch on space.baby, obviously a game about Babies in Space. But dungeon.baby was mine for the taking, and ever since then I’ve pondered in the back of my head the concept of Dungeon Baby.
Video games are of course only very rarely about babies, and even less frequently about the actual act of parenthood. While not all games are power-trip fantasies, many many games are. As much as I loved Doom and Heretic and Duke Nukem as a kid, as an adult and as a game designer I find myself very tired of these games. The central theme of these games seems to always be that power is good; that we should always try to attain more power and that we should cut down all those who stand in our way.
Doom and Heretic and Duke Nukem are fundamentally 90’s games. Each of these games is from a cultural milieu of excess, power, and greed. Obviously John Carmack’s lived reality is nothing like Doomguy’s lived reality; I don’t expect gamedevs to always put their own lived reality into their games. But those games are still reflective of their time: a time when humanity felt limitless and invulnerable.
The realities today are nothing like that. I don’t feel limitless and invulnerable. I don’t feel that humanity itself is limitless and invulnerable. I feel that humanity is in grave peril. A wise woman once said:
kind of a bummer to have been born at the very end of the Fuck Around century just to live the rest of my life in the Find Out century— Thing Bad (@Merman_Melville) February 22, 2021
That’s us, right now: the Find Out century.
As the months went by and I concepted Dungeon Baby, I thought of it always as a game where the player would protect a baby, carrying the baby through a dangerous environment. But to what end, and for what purpose? This part I always struggled with. The reality is that I identify more with the baby than with the hero; the peril, the lack of safety, the insecurity … these are the things that my generation deal with.
I’m … a millennial. God. Why? I can’t even imagine the psychological horror of being Gen Z.
What I’m grappling with, and what I think all of my peers are grappling with, is not feelings of invulnerability and optimism, but feelings instead of wanting to bury the sins of our forebears. It is shocking to grow up in the 90’s only to be spit out of college in 2009, a time when the economy was still reeling from the effects of the 2008 recession. We’ve inherited a broken economy, an ecology on the brink of collapse, and a society rapidly backsliding into fascism.
This we carry. It is our burden to be our parents children. And so as I thought of dungeon baby as a game in which the player would carry their own progeny into safety, I realized that what I related to more was to carry the sins of our parents to their grave.
The act of carrying serves many purposes in games, and this aspect of the Dungeon Baby concept I wanted to keep.