Posts Tagged ‘Serious Game’

I had a lovely review planned for today for a game called A Tale of Colours that one of my friends pointed me at…then I found a new game from PETA. Its a parody of the Pokemon series, set up to be a serious game. I’m going to preface this whole review with the fact that I’m going to do everything in my power to objectively review this game for its merits as a socio-political persuasive game, but I feel I should mention that I love Pokemon, I eat meat and I tend to view PETA as a touch crazy. With that disclaimer noted, lets head into the game.

The Pokemon franchise is based around the idea of letting kids capture little creatures and then breed and battle them. It was based off the childhood of the creator, catching bugs and studying them. But enough is enough, says PETA! We cannot allow children to have fun by caging helpless animals and forcing them to fight each other. They created a Pokemon style game where you play as the Pokemon. Unlike other games, the Pokemon are fighting their trainers and trying to spread the word about the fact that this violence hurts them and that they have feelings too.

As with other PETA games, the game play includes rewards which are videos showing the harm to animals caused by humans. The idea is to indoctrinate the players. The problem is that the games are geared for children and they tend to be far too over the top to actually convince most kids. I tend to find that scare tactics just leave kids having nightmares, not actually changing their attitudes towards anything.

The biggest problem with this game as a persuasive game is that any kid who has actually played the Pokemon games knows that the main character wins because they love their Pokemon and bond with them. The professors are always in favor of treating Pokemon with kindness and even your Rival learns their lesson in the end. So basically, PETA made a game to try to teach the same message the Pokemon games are actually teaching….

Only they made it ludicrous and over the top. Wait…I forgot. Attempting to review objectively. Uh…uh… The art lends itself well to the persuasive game style they’re going for. They make frequent allusions to the actual games, enough to make it feel properly in-world. But the characters are all being portrayed as completely psychotic killers, such as their portrayal of Ash Ketchum.

Pokemon is a fun game for kids about getting along, making friends, playing outside and exploring. Pokemon Black and Blue is a parody of that trying to show that the Pokemon world teaches kids to be violent and uncaring towards animals. I believe they are rather wide of their mark. As with their other persuasive games, they’ve gone so far in trying to prove their argument that it comes off as deluded ramblings. Their game has no bugs, which is nice, and the graphics are well done for their purpose. I award Pokemon Black and Blue 1 out of 5 hearts. I’m really not sure what else to say…I think I might have nightmares.

If you’re interested in playing Pokemon Black and Blue, you can find it here, along with links to the other PETA games.

Any thoughts about Pokemon Black and Blue? I’d love to hear your comments.

Blood typing was an important discovery in medical history. Karl Landsteiner discovered the major blood type groups while doing research into transfusions, without which many of the surgeries we take for granted these days would not be possible. He also won a Nobel Prize for his discoveries, which is why this game exists, but more on that later. I learned about blood types back in 10th grade biology and then again in Anatomy and Physiology in college, but lets face it, I don’t remember most of it because I barely applied it, if at all. That all changes now. Nobelprize.org brings us The Blood Typing Game, a hands on learning experience where the player is taking on the role of an emergency room doctor doing blood typing tests and transfusions.

The purpose of The Blood Typing Game is to teach younger people about the important of blood typing and is one of many new games on the Nobel Prize website. It also just happens to be a very nicely made serious game. The best part is that you can either read the 3 pages of information before the game starts which teach all about blood typing and the importance of getting it right for transfusions, or you can just jump right in and learn by doing. I chose the latter, just to see if it could be done. It walks you through the process quite nicely, and the messages telling you what to do stay there, but are easily ignored once you don’t need them any more.

One of the things I really liked is that while the game is hands on and scientifically accurate, its not overly bloody. I’m actually really squeamish about blood and I could play this with absolutely no problems. That alone gives them high marks in my book. I suspect that that may be a large part of why the graphics are the way the are. Everything is just slightly cartoony, not quite real. Just enough off from reality that anyone can play without getting grossed out or triggering phobias.

You can also see deeper into what’s going on at any time, which really helps with understanding the material being presented. The feedback presented is really good, and actually startled me a few times. After your patient screams once because you screwed up doing a transfusion, you never want to make a mistake ever again.

My one issue with The Blood Typing Game is that there are only 6 missions. The end of the last mission strongly implies that you can get new patients, but I followed their instructions and got the same batch I had already solved. This does seriously reduce the replayability of the game, which hinders learning to a degree. But overall, its a very well made game and it succeeds at its educational goals. I award The Blood Typing Game a 4.5 out of 5 hearts. Well done!

4.5 out of 5 zelda hearts

If you’re interested in playing The Blood Typing Game, you can find it here.

Educational games are looking to be an important part of the future, particularly for topics like basic arithmetic which really just amount to a lot of repetition and memorization. In light of that, I went on the hunt for a math based game to review and I found Castle Quests at Multiplication.com. The basic idea of Multiplication.com is that it is a one stop shop for all your multiplication teaching and learning needs. It has flash cards, work sheets, tests and, most relevant to this blog, games. The games are all pretty simple, flash based games and I picked one with a theme I knew I would find interesting.

Castle Quests is a 3 level multiplication quiz game using a medieval theme. The very simple storyline follows the player as they start out trying to become a Page at the King’s court, then become a Squire and finally a Knight. This is done by proving your prowess at multiplying. The graphics are simple and friendly, giving a nice theme to the game to make it not just repetition of facts. I really like how the graphics have this simple cartoony feel that almost feel kid-created, even though they are way better than most young kids could draw.

The first level is just basic facts and everything remains stationary, but by the Squire level things have started to move around and part of the challenge is keeping track of where the answers have gone. While you are playing through, it keeps track of how many questions you have answered correctly and how many you have answered incorrectly and displays them in the banners hanging from the herald’s horn.

In case you were curious, the banners hanging from the horn are properly called “Trumpet banners”. I love it when things have simple names.

Wrong answers don’t halt play, but just replacing the number with a black X really isn’t enough feedback for a child playing this game. This is particularly true since you can continue to click on the X’s. Also, nothing stops the player from simply getting the answer through guessing and elimination. As an experiment, I did a play-through in which I purposefully made as many mistakes as I possibly could. As you can see in the picture below, I made a lot of mistakes.

Over 100 mistakes later, I still see this screen:

I guess the King really doesn’t want good Squires.

Over all, its just fact repetition with a story over it like a skin. The graphics and story are cute, but the player’s performance doesn’t actually affect the story. There is very little feedback for the user, and because they can guess until they get it right, they really aren’t learning. If you just want to practice facts until you have them right, then this is the game for you. If you actually need to learn them from the beginning, then this might not be the right choice. I award Castle Quests with a 2 hearts out of 5. I’m just really not impressed.

The Gameful movement is taking the indie game design world by storm, but what does it mean? What is a “serious” game and how do those two words together even make any sense? That is what I will be talking about today. The raw basic idea of what a serious game is can best be defined as any game that has a purpose beyond entertainment. These can come in several different varieties from the traditional educational game to the advertisement or training simulation or even a socio-political game. Gameful is a specific movement where game mechanics can be added to anything to help make the real world a better place, in particular, adding points and achievements to doing good things. Without further ado, on to the definitions!

The Types

Adver-Games
Adver-Games are any kind of game that is trying to get the player to buy some product outside of the game. They generally speaking use the product or the product’s mascot in some situation where they make it seem fun or exciting. Its like an advertisement only better because the player is invested in the game far more than they would be in a simple commercial. Adver-games don’t tend to be Gameful, given that they’re just a more audience inclusive version of your standard commercial.

Edu-Tainment

The edu-tainment category is a vast array of kinds of games, but for the sake of today, I’m going to define it down to any game that seeks to impart information of an academic or practical nature. This means that there are two types of games coming in under the Edu-Tainment umbrella.

The so-called Educational Game is the traditional type of game that most people think of when they hear Educational Game. They impart knowledge and information, typically geared to children, and include happy games, usually of the arcade style. Reader Rabbit and the Magic School Bus games are really good examples of this. Educational Games are quite Gameful.

The other type is Training Simulations. These teach a person how to perform a job or how to handle a situation. Many companies use these to train their employees, up to and including the military and police departments. They are particularly useful for teaching people how to handle volatile situations without putting them in danger, such as a police simulator that teaches officers how to handle various situations with possibly armed suspects. These can also be quite Gameful.

Persuasive Games

Persuasive Games fall into the dubious category of socio-political games. These are any kind of game that is trying to draw you over to the developer’s point of view. Darfur is Dying, Super SOPA Bros and ICED are good examples of the genre. These games can be made through a serious delivery of facts, or through comedy, or any other direction the developer wants to attempt. A lot of the really volatile ones about situations that the developer considers to be horrible will tend to be done through shock factor. These, of course, are very Gameful. I’ve seen some very good games that reward the user for doing good things, for talking to strangers, for cleaning up their homes and for almost anything else.

So now that we’ve defined the types, what makes a serious game good at what its trying to do. Well, the first rule (and the one most often overlooked) is that the target audience has to want to play it. It turns out that doing math problems on a computer doesn’t make doing math any more fun if you don’t like math. But if you make it an action platformer where you have to catch the proper answers, or a puzzle game where you have to slide tiles around to solve problems, it becomes much more fun. The second rule is that it has to impart whatever it is trying to impart, be it information or an opinion or even just a commercial. Adver-games are the simplest to succeed at but have the downside of most people can identify that they are an advertisement. Educational games are also reasonably easy, for a young audience. Training simulations have to be painstakingly accurate in order to be effective. Persuasive games are their whole own can of worms. Sure, you have an opinion. Everyone does. But can you convey it well? Can you make it sound reasonable? Can you avoid sounding like you’re crazy? Theses are all important concerns which have been failed countless times in the history of persuasive games.

For more information on serious games and the Gameful movement, you can go check out the Serious Games Initiative and Gameful.org.

Super SOPA Bros

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

You’ve probably heard about the proposed SOPA act around the internet. I know I’ve been hearing about it for quite some time. You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about it since this is about gaming, not politics. The answer to that is extremely simple. I found a game about it. Its called Super SOPA Bros. I’ve talked about the premise of serious games before, particularly those that are educational. There are also the socio-political ones. These kinds of games try to sway the player to believe something that the designer wants them to believe. That’s what this is. The basic idea is that its Super Mario Bros but with all the things that make it distinct censored out with black bars. It was created for the Ludum Dare Stop SOPA Game Jam.

As you could probably guess, the developers were attempting to convince people to stand up against SOPA. It shows their views of what the internet would be like if SOPA were to pass: a place so censored that there is nothing beyond the bare functionality of it left. Interesting, isn’t it?

The game is extremely short and ends with everything fading into black since the rest was “censored out”, but the shortness really adds to the impact of the game.

This is a very well made protest game. It makes its point plain, even through its use of ironic support. The graphics are simple and help convey the meaning. By using a familiar platform, they ease the players into their beliefs in a more personal way. I thoroughly approve of their design. I award Super SOPA Bros 4 out of 5 hearts. Way better than that last socio-political game I reviewed for you.

4/5 Hearts

Sumon

Posted: January 13, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Sumon is a game out from Ideateca Games (or Ludei, their site is quite confusing) using my absolute favorite HTML5 and teaching mathematical concepts. How cool is that? The basic idea is that you take squares with numbers on them and you have a goal number. You are trying to create the goal number by selecting squares to add together. The more squares you use, the higher the score you get for them.

There are three different play modes: classic, progressive and respawn. Classic mode is just a big square of numbers each level. Progressive mode starts with a small amount of squares and the number of squares increases every level. In respawn mode, more blocks get added periodically. In all of the modes, the goal is to clear the screen of blocks.

The art style in this game is very nice. It has a certain feeling of homemade which makes it welcoming. The music is overwhelmingly annoying. It is less easy to notice that the music is a very short loop while you’re playing because of all the sound effects, but if you leave it sitting on a menu for any amount of time, you will realize just how short the repeat loop is.

Sumon is a very nice game. I really enjoyed it, though I would have liked for it to be a tad harder. It should be great for kids. In light of all that, I award Sumon a 4 out of 5 hearts. Could have been higher if it wasn’t for the music driving me a little batty.

4/5 Hearts

Sumon is available on several platforms including the iPhone, Android and Chrome browser. If you would like to try it out, check out the info page here.

Freerice

Posted: December 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Freerice is an example of a really great serious game. For those of you who are new readers or new to my game designer lingo, a serious game is a game where the objective is more than just entertainment. In a lot of cases, serious games are used for educational purposes or to help make the world a better place. In the case of Freerice, it does both. The player gets to learn about lots of different topics and the better they are doing, the more rice gets donated to third world countries that need the food. What could be better?

Well, how about it being really really simple to play. So, you want to expand your vocabulary? Start with level 1 and get some nice easy questions, sending rice to people who really need it. Then you start hitting words you don’t know and you learn. Each subject has a different number of levels.

Any time you’re playing and you get something wrong, it tells you what the correct answer was and then just keeps going on. After a couple more questions, it will go back to the ones you got wrong and keep cycling like that until you get the correct answers.

It takes about 10 minutes to donate 1000 grains of rice. Sure, that’s not much, only about 3/4 of a cup. But that could be a child’s dinner. And if you, me and everyone else just logs on for half an hour a day, we could feed the world. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Sure the game has no flares, but that’s alright. Its worth it to play. I strongly suggest you check it out. Freerice gets 5 out of 5 hearts. They do what they do wonderfully.

If you want to play Freerice, it you can find it at freerice.com. Freerice is maintained by World Food Programme.