Doris C. Rusch

Dr. Doris C. Rusch is a professor of game design with a special focus on Transformative Play at Uppsala University, Department of Game Design. She is the author of “Making Deep Games” and numerous journal papers and book chapters as well as lead designer of numerous award-winning games about the human experience. She is collaborating with Prof. Andy Phelps on the Existential Transformative Game Design Framework which draws on existential psychotherapy, depth psychology as well as myth and ritual to create experiences which can ignite change in a self-directed and uncoerced manner.

Andrew Phelps

Andrew “Andy” Phelps is a designer and professor at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory NZ (HITLabNZ) within the College of Engineering at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand where he explores virtual and augmented reality, games and education, and art and interactive media experiences. He is also a professor in the Film & Media Arts division of the School of Communication, holds a joint appointment in the Department of Computer Science, and is the director of the AU Game Center at American University in Washington DC, USA. His latest games include Fragile Equilibrium (XBOX, Steam, 2019) and The Witch’s Way ( 2021). He maintains a website of his academic publications, popular writing, artwork, curriculum development, and more at

The Magic of The Witch’s Way

FROG 2021 – Talk

Prof. Andrew M. Phelps, American University (Washington DC); University of Canterbury (NZ), guest prof. at Uppsala University

This talk discusses the design of The Witch’s Way, focusing on its conceptualization and creative rendering of magic. In this interactive text adventure game, you play a middle-aged woman named Lou, who decides to take a time out from her busy and outwardly successful but inwardly unfulfilled life, and move to the cottage in the woods her aunt has left her. There, she establishes contact with nature, the Unknown Forest behind the cottage, and the mysterious beings that dwell within it. Guided by animal spirits, a wise and quirky bookshelf and her aunt’s magical clues, Lou learns about the Witch’s Way and how to live in greater alignment with herself and the world around her, tapping into a pervasive and powerful magic that changes her and her life forever. The Witch’s Way is part of a bigger research endeavor that aims to articulate a theoretical framework for existential, transformative game design (Rusch, 2018; Rusch, 2020; Rusch and Phelps, 2020a; Rusch and Phelps, 2020b). Its driving research question is: how can we create games that address existential concerns – death, identity, isolation, freedom and purpose (Yalom, 1980) – and contribute to a meaningful life, i.e. a life where we are as much in alignment with our true self as we possibly can be (Bugental, 1990; Campbell, 2004). Drawing on anthropology (Davis, 2009), archetypal psychology (Hillman, 1996) as well as mythology and ritual studies in the context of (existential) psychotherapy (May, 1991; Larson, 1996; Goodwyn, 2012, 2016; Greenwood and Goodwyn 2016; Jodorowski, 2010), it harnesses four technologies of magic (Beck, 2012), 1) Wordlessness, 2) Oneness, 3) Imagination and 4) Forming, which are ways to access the unconscious self and sync it up with the energy of the conscious self as well as the energy world that surrounds us. Rather than remaining purely in the mystical realm, The Witch’s Way and its underlying framework further create a bridge to neuroscience and neuroanatomy. Because the magic of inner alignment requires access to our felt sense, research on embodied consciousness (Varela, Thompson & Bosch, 1993; Blake, 2019; Fogel, 2009) and whole brain living (Taylor, 2021) provides a fascinating and insightful scientific complement to our theoretical and creative explorations.


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