Posts Tagged ‘Socio-Political 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.

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

Gameful

Posted: August 31, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Social networks and forums are all the rage. So, of course, the game designing community has set up their own special place for discussing programming idea, design ideas, and the future of games as more than entertainment. As such, Gameful is a fantastic place for people interested in art, design, programming, storytelling and even just in playing games. There is also an extra focus on games that do more than just entertain, or entertain in a new and different way. We’re pushing the boundaries of what is a game and pushing forward towards the future.

The Gameful site is more than just a forum. There are groups you can join to talk about specific topics. There is a classifieds section where people are looking to hire artists, programmers and designers and also looking to sell their own work. There is also a game in place that rewards the user for talking to people, making friends and just generally being a good user. Leveling up in the game unlocks more features for the user, including a blog at level 7. You can scroll through and see a lot of different user’s blogs and find some really interesting stuff. Every user also gets a twitter style status feed that they can use to talk about design work and gaming.

One of my favorite parts of Gameful is the design challenges. At current, there are 4 in progress, each one challenging the designer in a different direction. One of them is based on a game that can introduce complete strangers to each other on the street or in a restaurant. Another is based on using a short game’s mechanics to make someone happy. That’s the mechanics, not the story line or art. The different competitions have what is called a “challenge angel” who donates prizes to the challenge for the winners. Its pretty much full of awesome.


I think that one of the best things about Gameful is that it gives designers a place to go to talk about different ideas in game design that maybe the bigger companies don’t want to risk trying. People can push the boundaries of gaming and what a game can be used to accomplish. You might have heard of Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. She is one of the minds behind Gameful and it shows. A lot of the themes from her book regularly show up in the design challenges and just in general forum chat.

If you have any interest in games, gaming, design, art, programming or storytelling, I highly suggest you check out Gameful. There are sections for students, professionals, amateurs, hobbyists and people who just want to play, among many many other different groups you can chat in. I myself am a member of 16 different groups including one for student game designers, one for people who want to make educational games and one for people who LARP. I love Gameful and the ideas that are coming out of the conversations on there.

This game is several varieties of special. And my review for this is going to be way more verbose than normal. I wrote about this for one of my classes, so I’m just going to be lazy and copy paste my report 😛

The purpose of this game is to convince people that the immigration laws in this country are unfair to immigrants and to educate the populous about the truth of immigration. This game details things like that fact that many immigrants are afraid to call the police because they may be deported, or the fact that a misdemeanor to a citizen is a felony if an immigrant does it. It also shows the environment in detention facilities for immigrants who have been detained. The goal of the developers is that people who play ICED will be more likely to vote for changes to the immigration and citizenship laws. In fact, ICED stands for I Can End Deportation. This game doesn’t do terribly well at its goals. The fact that the information is all given in either voice overs which can be turned off or text boxes that can be ignored, or in Myth Or Fact puzzles that can be solved without any trouble by picking the choice that seems more against the immigration policies.

The setting of the beginning of this game is a nameless, fictional city with a large immigrant population. The second half of the game takes place in a deportation detention center. There are five different characters, made up of teenagers and college students. Each one is an immigrantwho is unknowingly breaking immigration law. For example, Suki didn’t take enough courses on a student visa. Another example is Anna, who thinks she’s a citizen but the lawyer that was supposed to get her citizenship when she was younger wasn’t a real lawyer. The story takes the player from a normal day walking through a city, through an immigrations officer raid and into a detention center. The story is brute forced at points. Even if the player succeeds completely at the first two stages, they still go to the detention center just to see it. The story does help the goals of the game, though the fact that the story doesn’t change based on player actions is quite odd.
ICED is played by moving the character around through a virtual city trying to gain points without raising their danger level. If their danger level gets too high, immigration officers show up to arrest them. The choices include the Myth Or Facct questions and other questions about whether or not to do certain actions such as registering to vote or calling the police on a man beating his wife. The actions don’t have any kind of mix or randomization though, and all of them should not be done because, for example, registering to vote while not a citizen is illegal. Scattered throughout the world are ways of getting points. The main way to find these is by looking at the minimap for the little green dots. The player doesn’t actually have to pay any attention to the main screen. The questions are the main gameplay which is intended for any kind of learning, though and while the questions could be very educational, they are very easy to determine the correct answer with out actually absorbing any of the information. The player merely needs to see whether the question seems to be expressed as a fact or an opinion and how reasonable the statement sounds.

ICED was developed using the Torque 3D engine to make a first person game. The controls are mouse to look and arrow keys to move, just like most first person shooters. The user interface has many different measures of the player’s success, include score, progress, freedom and risk. Despite being on the interface the entire time, the risk meter only seems to apply during the city half of the game and the freedom meter seems to only apply during the detention center half of the game. The minimap in the top corner of the game by-passes the need to actually look at the 3D environment that the player is inhabiting. The questions are the main gameplay that is offered to the player. To make the point really stick, the information should have been offered through another medium rather than textbased questions. Perhaps by making the options be something more immersive like conversations or by making more actions available.

In 2007, Breakthrough asked the Education Development Center to assess ICED. Their assessment largely showed that the game was having a strong emotional affect on the players, but it also showed that many of the players thought that the game was far too biased and was putting its own facts into question. Some of the open-ended responses from the players suggested that only part of the story was being shown and that it was hard to feel for a character who was being detained for breaking that law. The main strong points of the game, according to the assessment, were the roleplay and immersion aspects. The major suggestion from the assessment board was to make the questions from the gameplay be more complex, since a simple true/false question doesn’t cover the full depth of the situation.


ICED! is a basically good serious game with several flaws. The story is over-simplified, as are the choices, and the game bias is so strong as to turn off the kind of players who really notice, with some even noting that it puts their facts into question. For some people, this game and its emotional response will be enough to cause them to want to change immigration policies, but for many it will be lacking because of the overly strong bias. Had they used more complex gameplay and allowed less of their bias to show, perhaps the game could be more successful.

So, for an actual review, I suppose that means I should give it a score. I hate this game. It was boring and I felt like I was being hit with a clue bat. A really hard, possibly steel clue bat. The best way to describe it is that one of my friends watched me playing and said “I think this game hates America.” So I’m giving it a 1 out of 5.

If for some unusual reason you want to play ICED, you can find it at http://www.icedgame.com/.