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Detachment Undone

A casual game about the ten stages of genocide.


Sole Developer excl. audio

Made for:

Personal Project; Ludum Dare 47: Stuck in a loop

Play here:

On September 27th 2020, Azerbaijan launched a full scale military offensive against the Armenians of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). The extent of the attacks lead to a genocide emergency being declared for the Armenians, who had inhabited this land for millennia. 

Around this time, there was a Ludum Dare game jam event with the theme “stuck in a loop”. Given that Armenian history is stuck in a loop and genocide itself is a process that may form a loop if not recognised and resolved, I wanted to make a game about genocide.

Most genocide games I’d come across were heavy, emotionally charged linear narratives, where you get to know a character, their life, their strife. Coming up with a compelling narrative that would do the events justice seemed too much to tackle in the three days of the jam, especially since thinking in coherent narratives had become difficult for me since the first attacks. Instead, I wanted to take a different approach and so, as an abstract artist, I wondered if I could make an abstract game - a game that abstracted the mechanics of genocide into the mechanics of a game.


The gameplay is a mechanisation of the ten stages of genocide, as established by Dr. Gregory Stanton. Each stage describes certain antagonistic characteristics or features that are part of a genocidal process. Each stage also includes measures that are recommended to stop that stage and prevent the genocide from progressing any further.

This structure lends itself well to game design:

  • Ten stages become ten levels

  • Each level introduces a new antagonistic mechanic that represents the antagonistic features of each stage

  • Each antagonistic mechanic must be defeated by the player in order to complete each level.


Stage 1 of genocide is Classification, or the creation of an “us” group and a “them” group. The preventative measure for this stage is all about reframing the group classifications by creating a third, all-encompassing group that includes both us and them groups within it. 

This idea of merging smaller groups into one larger super group is the basis for the whole game and establishes its basic interaction loop. There are two different types of pieces floating around in the game space. The player must drag and drop contrasting pieces on top of each other to merge them and create grouped pieces. Continue merging ungrouped and grouped pieces until left with one large supergroup to complete the level.

A black and white piece combined with a white and black piece create a grouped piece

As these “us” and “them” group designations may be based on real or completely arbitrary group differences and to establish the abstract nature of the game, instead of using humanoid characters as game pieces, the game uses circles with contrasting colours: black and white circles and white and black circles. When merged, they transform into circles that are both black and white and white and black.

The increasing levels of grouping, with the first stage on the left and the final, supergroup stage on the right.
Stage 2 Onwards

From level two onwards, there’s a differentiation between pieces. We now have perpetrator pieces and victim pieces. Which is which is determined by player actions in level 1, so each playthrough may be different. 

From here we also introduce Traps. Traps represent the antagonists features of all the following stages. When a piece is affected by a trap, they become ungroupable and uninteractable. Affected pieces need to be freed from these effects by other pieces before they can be grouped and the level won. Some traps work only on perpetrators, others only on victims, and some on both. 

To win a level, all traps must be destroyed, as well as the initial win condition of creating the one large supergroup because it’s not enough to have one unified group if the genocidal systems are still in place. All pieces if dragged to a trap may cause it damage, but different pieces have different damage levels and cooldown durations before they can attack again. The different damage levels represent the relative power between different groups in stopping genocidal actions. The cooldowns encourage attacks from multiple pieces rather than relying on one hero piece to save the day and destroy all the traps, because real change comes from multiple individuals or groups working together in a coordinated effort.

STAGE 2: Symbolisation

Stage features: Symbols are introduced to represent the different groups introduced in the first stage. Symbols are most commonly used to identify and marginalise victim groups, though they can also be used to represent members of perpetrator groups. 

Trap effect: Symbol traps affect victim pieces by applying the symbol effect. Affected pieces cannot be interacted with and cannot be grouped.

How to defeat: Drag and drop either perpetrator or grouped pieces onto affected victim pieces to free them from this effect before then being able to group with them. 

STAGE 3: Discrimination

Stage features: Laws and conventions are introduced to take rights away from victims to make them less equal and less powerful than those in the perpetrator group.

Trap effects: Size traps reduce the size of victim pieces to make them literally smaller than perpetrator pieces. Affected pieces cannot be interacted with and cannot be grouped.

How to defeat: As above, drag and drop either perpetrator or grouped pieces onto affected victim pieces to free them from this effect before then being able to group with them. 

STAGE 4: Dehumanisation

Stage features: Victims are seen as less than human, often compared to animals, vermin, or diseases. 

Trap effects: In a world of circles, dehumanisation becomes de-circle-isation, so shape traps transform victim pieces into squares instead of circles.

How to defeat: As above, drag and drop either perpetrator or grouped pieces onto affected victim pieces to free them from this effect before then being able to group with them. 

STAGE 5: Organisation

Stage features: Governments begin preparing for the later stages to come. This can be through creating plans for future stages, but also through the creation of secret police or militias.

Trap effects: Militia traps affect perpetrator pieces by recruiting them into the militia. Affected pieces wear the militia uniform, which includes the pure circle symbol, as opposed to the square symbol of the symbolisation traps in stage 2. If recruited pieces collide with victim pieces in the game space, the victim pieces are “disappeared”. Where did they go? No-one knows, but they are never coming back.

How to defeat: Affected perpetrator pieces can only be freed by grouped pieces. This is where it becomes possible to lose the game as if there are no grouped pieces and all victim pieces have been disappeared or all pieces (both victim and perpetrator) have been affected, no supergroup can be made, which means the level cannot be won.

STAGE 6: Polarisation

Stage features: Extremists seek to drive the groups further apart and target moderates to intimidate them and keep them quiet.

Trap effects: Podium traps with a zone of influence affect all ungrouped pieces. Any piece, whether victim or perpetrator, which passes through the zone of influence is stopped in their tracks and cannot be moved nor grouped.

How to defeat: Podiums must be destroyed by either perpetrator or grouped pieces to destroy the zone of influence and free the trapped pieces so that they may be grouped.

STAGE 7: Preparation

Stage features: Propaganda is spread to create fear of the victim group among members of the perpetrator group and to prepare them for the “necessary” next steps.

Trap effects: Propaganda traps affect perpetrator pieces by causing them to shake in fear. They cannot be interacted with nor grouped, but if they come into contact with a militia piece, they too “join the militia” and become affected militia pieces.

How to defeat: Only grouped pieces can free scared perpetrator pieces.

STAGE 8: Persecution

Stage features: Victims are identified and separated, often by deportation or confinement to camps or ghettoes.

Trap effects: A Holding Zone is present in the game space. During these levels, there are also militia traps. When affected militia pieces come across victim pieces, those victim pieces are transported to the Holding Zone, where they are unable to leave and are inaccessible to other pieces.

How to defeat: There is a ring of other traps on the perimeter of the Holding Zone to fortify it. Destroy all the perimeter traps to make the Holding Zone vanish and free the trapped victim pieces.

STAGE 9: Extermination

Stage features: Mass killings.

Trap effects: Gun traps send out a spray of bullets at timed intervals. All victim pieces will be destroyed if hit. Perpetrator pieces will also be destroyed if hit, but only those that have not been recruited as militia pieces. This is because members of the perpetrating group may appear to be safe as they are not part of the victim group, but often if they get into the way of the actions of the state, they too are met with a similar fate.

If grouped pieces are hit, they “loose group members” and so lose a level of grouping. If at the first grouping level, they become either a single victim or perpetrator piece.

How to defeat: The only way is to destroy the traps. Pieces that have been struck by the spray of bullets are gone and there is no way to bring them back.

STAGE 10: Denial

Stage features: Any evidence of the genocide is covered up. Investigations are blocked and often victims are blamed. It may be outlawed to call the events a genocide. If successfully denied, memory of the events as genocide will be brought into question or simply fade away, leaving the instigators freedom to commit further atrocities.

Trap effects: Denial traps will cause any victim pieces that pass through them to be trapped and begin to fade away until they disappear entirely.

How to defeat: Drag and drop any unaffected perpetrator or grouped piece onto the denial trap to push any trapped victim pieces away from the trap and free them of the denial effects.

Other Design Decisions

  • Which pieces are victim pieces or perpetrator pieces are determined by player actions in level 1. Specifically, the game keeps track of how many times each circle type is selected to be the one dragged and dropped onto the opposing type. The one that is selected the most is chosen to be the perpetrator: Perpetrators have more power than victims and by displaying a preference for a certain circle type to be the initiator in a merging interaction, a player displays an inherent belief that those pieces are the ones with the most power. If both are selected equally, then the differentiation is random.

  • Effects from traps can stack because they are not mutually exclusive. However, each effect must be removed one by one as each effect needs to be dealt with individually.

  • The stages of genocide, despite being presented in a sequential 1-10 list, are not necessarily linear. However, they are treated as linear in the game to introduce the concepts gradually to the player. The use of multiple mechanics during later levels demonstrates that features from previous stages may overlap and cooccur whilst also providing additional challenges to the player.

Design Challenges

  • Picking out the key feature of each stage of genocide was not as simple as the above makes it seem. Many stages contain several features and as the stages are not meant to be linear, certain features overlap. However, for the sake of clear level design, it was important to pick out one key, defining feature per level rather than trying to convey them all in some messy multitude of features. Key features were chosen based on how well they could be translated into a simple, distinct mechanic that could convey its message clearly and concisely in the game space, as well as how distinct and recognisable they might be in real world genocides.

  • At first glance, there is a discrepancy between the logic of the game and the logic of the stages: A level is won by beating the traps and effectively stopping the genocide, yet the next level progresses to the next stage of genocide. If the aim is to stop a genocide, then why do the levels keep progressing through the stages? This required a real consideration of the true aims of the game: The game is not meant to be an accurate simulation of genocide but rather an abstraction aimed to increase familiarity with the mechanics of genocide. Players are not trying to stop the genocide that is underway in the game, but rather they are playing to experience all the stages of genocide and to practise the actions required to undo them, with the hopes that they might learn to recognise the stages in the real world and know of the steps required to prevent them.


All the art was made by myself. The backgrounds are abstract fluid art paintings using the vermillion red, royal blue, and apricot orange of the Armenian tricolour flag, all made during the initial game jam weekend. Prints of these pieces have since been sold to raise money for charities helping deal with the aftermath of the attacks.

My intention was to create bold, brightly coloured backgrounds with a dreamy, other-worldly feel to them. They are deliberately very abstract to set the abstract nature of the game's concept.

The game pieces are also bold, but rendered in simple black and white to contrast strongly with the backgrounds and also to fully embody the black and white, polar concepts that take over throughout the mechanics of genocide. The victim and perpetrator pieces start out as clearly black and white to demonstrate their differences, although as they are inversions of each other, the differences are not very distinct. Then, as the pieces are merged, the grouped pieces contain more and more rings of black and white, which gives the appearance of emerging shades of grey.

The graphics for the traps follow the same black and white line art as the pieces, but they are more representative and less abstract than the backgrounds to allow players to more clearly understand the concepts behind them.


The initial soundtrack for the game was made by Francesco Sicurella during the game jam weekend and is the one currently used. It was intended as a dreamy soundscape to create a relaxing experience for players, inspired by the haunting sounds of the Armenian duduk, but intended to be more calming than melancholy. Future development will see the creation of an audio landscape that captures melodies of Armenian resistance, all while maintaining that same calming, dreamy atmosphere.

Further Development

The final game will be developed for mobile and contain the following game modes:

  • The core, educational game mode: This will be a linear play-through of the 10 levels and stages of genocide.

  • The gamified mode: A more game-centric exploration of the stages as levels. The core game will be extended and expanded into several chapters, which contain multiple levels. The stage mechanics will be introduced gradually, allowing players several levels to become comfortable with a mechanic before introducing the next. Subsequent levels will use different combinations of trap mechanics to create a more varied and engaging experience with a longer play-through than the core game mode.

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