In Hannah, you play as an old friend of the game's namesake. As the game unfolds, you discover she is a victim of domestic violence, and as the player you are provided with tools that can also help domestic violence victims in the real world.
Developer Susannah Emery of Lotus Media Studios is a researcher studying the ability of games to help us experience social or cultural situations that are different to those we experience every day.
"I chose a game, or app, to tackle this concept for several reasons," she told Gizmodo. "It's a chat based game to reflect how more and more of our conversations these days are taking place through text or social media means."
Hannah communicates with the player through a messenger-style interface, sending texts about her feelings and experiences. The goal of the app format is to allow Hannah's messages to be sent directly to your phone as notifications, so she becomes a part of your life just as your friends and family are already.
"Through listening to and learning about Hannah, the player will uncover some of the many and varied forms of abuse Hannah is experiencing, as well as how it is affecting her," Emery explains. "The player plays a major role in Hannah's story, and must develop a strong, trust based, and most importantly non-judgmental relationship with her in order to help and support her through her journey."
Emery says that games are powerful teaching tools — and the practical conversational skills the player learns in the game will be directly translatable to situations in real life, where friends or family may be experiencing domestic violence.
Having friends and family who know the right thing to do or say can make a huge differences in the lives of domestic violence victims.
"There are many barriers for victims of domestic violence trying to seek help," says Emery. "Leaving such a relationship is very complex and difficult. This is compounded due to the fact that many friends and family may not understand the difficulties faced by women trying to leave a violent relationship."
In the findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey for respondents 16–24 years, 80 per cent of young people agreed that "it’s hard to understand why women stay in a violent relationship", with 61 per cent agreeing that "a woman could leave a violent relationship if she really wanted to".
"Unfortunately attitudes like this make it more difficult for victims, as they often cite unhelpful responses and a lack of support from family and friends as a major reason they find it difficult to end abusive relationships," says Emery. "Hannah is designed to try to help family and friends understand some of the reasons behind victim's choices, and the difficulties faced by a victim trying to find safety, as Hannah shares her feelings and experiences with the player, and to try to help family and friends develop a supportive vocabulary and learn practical skills to support their friends."
Emery has hopes that Hannah will not only help family and friends of domestic violence victims, but also that the game will bring greater awareness of the complex issues faced by victims of violent relationships — including issues that, from the outside, may seem counter intuitive or even self destructive.
"It's a sad fact that sometimes even the closest of friends don't quite understand what someone is going through, and although their intentions may be good, they can sometimes give empty advice such as 'just leave the relationship', or ask the victim what they've done to make their partner so mad," Emery explains. "If these friends had been able to play Hannah, they might have understood why this kind of advice isn't particularly helpful."
Hannah is currently in prototype stage, with the aim to begin demos towards the end of 2016 while funding options are being explored. Lotus Media Studios, with artist Andrew Taylor from Critter Studios on board, are planning for both iOS and Android release.