Games with a point
May 13, 2012, 2:13 am
Filed under: Ideas

Serious games (aka games for change, persuasive games, games for good) are all the rage [at least on my facebook wall thanks to the fact that Games for Change posts new stuff every couple minutes and I haven’t yet decided to block them]. What are they? Games (actual games, often video games) that have some sort of social benefit, whether it’s motivating kids to learn math, helping people understand the government budget process, challenging our perception of news events, imagining an eco-apocalyptic future, or pulling together a community for a shared task like evaluating Parliament expenses.

The book Newsgames has a great rundown of a bunch of types of games that editorialize and inform, which are the games that are most of interest to me personally. I remain skeptical about the power of serious games to institute social change, honestly. They seem a bit like salads at McDonald’s at the moment. I’m not convinced they’re necessarily better for us than the conventional fare (e.g. do we have results showing that the programs are effective and the effects lasting?), and they’re drastically outnumbered by the conventional fare, irrelevant at best and a gateway drug at worst. Plus, if a game has a social message, it probably will only be played by people who already agree with that message.

But the idea is still inspiring. Wouldn’t it be great if games could be a source of social change? Voluntary. Viral. And more effective than less interactive media, e.g. powerpoint presentations of statistics. Here are some games I would like to see —

  • Policy Boggle — Pick a card; each has a policy position on it, which everyone can see. All players have to write down as many reasons FOR and AGAINST the policy as they can. When the timer runs out, compare answers. Unique answers that no one else came up with are worth a point each.
  • Gandhi Challenge — a modification of a shooter or platform game so that you lose if you hurt anyone, so you have to dodge, hide, strategize, and get real good at talking down attackers. You get points for staying alive but also for saving other lives, by stealing people’s guns, tackling them, warning victims, etc.
  • Shoppus Interruptus — Can you pick out which items on the shelf contain harmful chemicals? It’s like the games where you have to identify things that don’t belong in a scene.
  • Trashtris — like Tetris, but with trash … and the speed of the trash flow corresponds to various cities’ actual trash production
  • Energy Vampire Slayer — stalk around a dark home, identifying the energy vampires and slaying them before your energy budget runs out. Get points for destroying energy hogs, but minus points if you kill too many appliances (as it requires resources and energy to manufacture the new things you’d replace them with)
  • Collapse — Take control of the civilizations in Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, and see if you can avert catastrophe.
  • Sim Retirement — We need practice investing and seeing the results.
  • Capitol Trivia — Answer multiple-choice questions about what events precipitated regulations in force today.
  • Congress RPG — Set your policy goals and get to work negotiating a bill through Congress and managing relationships with lobbyists, constituents, other members of Congress, journalists, etc.
  • PETA Patrol — Rescue animals from CAFOs, slaughterhouses, restaurants, grocery stores, celebrity penthouses, etc.
  • Hungry Tourist — Use gestures (on your XBox Kinect!) to place food orders in countries that don’t speak English.
  • Litter Punch — Platform game where you go around punching anyone who litters. Then hopefully carry it into real life and punch people on the street who litter. Not too hard.
  • Negotiators — Players are assigned to international teams, and they have to come up with a climate change agreement that gets voted up or down by the team and then by the online community and then gets proposed to the international community. (Because we can’t wait for politicians to figure it out.)
  • Eco-Twin — A game like GodVille, where you setup an avatar who then tells you what s/he’s up to. In this case, you and s/he would compete to see who can be most environmentally friendly. The avatar would be programmed to be realistic but challenging.

What do you think? Would you play any of these? Got any ideas for games you’d like to see?


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