About a year ago an idea occurred to me (yes, it happens occasionally): wouldn’t it be great to make a game, and I mean a real AAA title, that was educational? That you could really learn something from? Of course we’ve all played games like Sim City and Civilization but one could argue that the potential learning involved there is more the means than the goal itself. And improved reflexes by playing first person shooters isn’t quite what I mean either.
Of course I knew that this idea couldn’t be so original. I’m sure most game developers have at one point or the other thought about how they can use this great medium for something more than just entertainment…something to train, educate, and empower the players. What I didn’t know was the sheer extent of the work that has already been carried out in this space. Over the past decade, and especially in recent years, this area has been getting more and more attention as organizations outside the gaming industry are starting to realize the power of games in capturing and holding people’s attention. I’m not only referring to video games…search the web for “gamification of education” and you’ll get a taste of what I mean. The Serious Games Summit are just two examples of a growing number of conferences and initiatives around the world that are promoting this conversation.
For my first post I decided to simply list a few games that can be considered educational and share some brief thoughts. My hope is that this will help us expand our concept of what a game can be.
PeaceMaker (Social / Political)
Talk about a sensitive topic to make a game (well anything, really) on: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict! The game allows you take leadership of either side of the conflict, and use policies to try and bring about a peaceful resolution. Let alone the fact that it is actually quite well done in terms of balance and being impartial, it shows one of the greatest advantages of games in delivering content: taking something that might be daunting for most both in terms of complexity and, for lack of a better word, seriousness, into a format that is more engaging and digestible (and actionable) for the average person.
Urgent Evoke (Social / Economic):
This one is not a computer game in the traditional sense of the term. Developed by the World Bank and created by Jane McGonigal who has made quite a bit of noise in this area as of late, this game (as explained on the website) is a “ten-week crash course in changing the world”. Intended to be played as a large group, basically each week you are presented with a real world problem. Your mission then is to learn about the problem, perform a real world action to help with it, and finally share your thoughts on what the future might hold. Points and achievements are given for sharing blog posts, photos, videos, etc. for each mission. This really takes things to another level. Not only does the format encourage thought and meaningful conversation, but it also promotes real world action.
Ayiti: The Cost of Life (Social / Economic):
If you play this game, you might quickly realize that it’s not exactly a masterpiece by any means. What you might not immediately realize is that it was designed and developed by a group of youth in an after school program in collaboration with a game development studio. There is a great explanation of the process here under case study. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that as educational as playing a game might be, creating a game can be much more so (and on many more levels).
Fate of the World (Environment):
Playing this game is a lot like trying to juggle 20 knives and having someone throw you a new one every 2 minutes. The complexity of the environmental issue and how many different factors affect it comes out loud and clear. But besides the scientific accuracy and the depth, what is really noteworthy about this game is its technical excellence. You see, serious games, are still not taken too seriously by the industry. Fate of the World, with its well done design, simple yet beautiful graphics, solid game play, and general high-production-value look and feel is an example of the type of game that is going to have people rethink whether this kind of game can be commercially viable.
Immune Attack (Health):
There are some obvious choices I could have gone with for a health game (Wii Fit being one)…but I picked Immune Attack instead. It’s really more of a biology game than a health game. As I was playing through the it (and it’s free by the way!), the whole time I was thinking: this is such a great concept because the format (maneuvering a ship through strange and wonderful terrain and potentially shooting at things) is already tried and true. Add to it the amazing setting of the human body and all the interesting facts one could learn about it… it’s basically a game version of the Fantastic Voyage. Someone should really throw a good budget at this and do it justice!
If you are interested in this subject, there are tons of resources, but Games for Change is a good place to start.