Zhuoran Ma

Interdisciplinary Artist • Game Designer
Zhuoran Ma is an interdisciplinary artist and game designer who experiments with game development, digital imaging, animation, and fabrication in examining subject matters of identity navigation and social relationship. Her goals are to design experimental games that concentrate on thematic appropriateness, emotional experience, and creative and critical use of mediums to convey strong messages.
Thesis Faculty
Kyle LiJessica MarshallEver BusseyAndrew Zornoza



“A+” examines the influence of meritocracy in video game gameplay and narratives that reinforce the emphasis on ability and talents, resulting in the marginalization of groups that do not meet the criteria. In games, our efforts seem to consistently pay off—the more we engage, the more potent we become. Nevertheless, the concept of meritocracy remains largely fiction; skills and efforts are not the sole contributors to success. Identity, social class, generational wealth, luck, and other socio-cultural factors also differentiate people, excluding certain groups from the conversation. The issue of meritocracy is prevalent in multiplayer gameplay. Sometimes, the reason behind losing a game is not that the team members refuse to give their best effort; rather, it’s that the game’s design typically favors certain players with specific skill sets, while neglecting the skill gaps of others. This consequently causes conflicts between players.

The demo of “A+” aims to focus on the issue of “awful teamwork” through a single-player role-playing game (RPG), where the player will go through combats against enemies in collaboration with a non-player character (NPC) programmed to act on their own will and cannot be directly controlled by the player. In order to win, the player needs to actively communicate with the NPC and use strategies to foster effective teamwork. By immersing players in interactions, the demo encourages players to reflect on their own multiplayer gaming experiences, discovering system biases in designs that are based on a celebration of meritocracy.


The demo can be downloaded on itch.io: https://zhuoran-ma.itch.io/a-plus

In-game Screenshot

Thesis Show