Thursday, 21 January 2010

Computer Gaming And Real Life Applications…

There’s a pretty good article in the ‘Indy’ about the uses to which computer game technology and theory could be put in the future:
Nobody could argue that the £30bn video gaming isn't by definition a serious business. But can games themselves ever be put to "serious" use? Could the same medium that offers us so much fun and entertainment also be a tool for raising political and social awareness?
He describes a typical ‘worthy’ game, though not in terms that make it seem like a fun way to spend a few hours…
Playing Darfur is Dying couldn't be easier, so long as you have a computer and an internet connection. Visiting the game's website, you are instantly thrown into the fray: a window in the centre of your screen asks you to "choose a Darfurian to represent your camp". A family of two parents and six children are your charges: displaced by conflict, the game asks you to perform such tasks as foraging for water, irrigating crops, and generally trying to survive the appalling rigours of life as one of the 2.5 million refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan (a context that's clearly explained in a couple of sentences underneath the game window onscreen).
Sounds awfully right-on, but I think I’ll stick to ‘World of Warcraft’ and Cabelas’ hunting games, if it’s all the same to you.

Well, unless the graphics and gameplay improve in the no-doubt already planned sequel, ‘Haiti is Collapsing!’…
Ethically, Darfur is Dying is hard to fault. As a game, however, its limitations are painfully obvious. It's a little confusing, and "fun" has been rather too scrupulously avoided; or, a little more generously, its idea of "engagement" is somewhat dour and limited.
A game devised by progressives to make us all feel guilty and donate money is ‘dour and limited’? Say it ain’t so!
Suzanne Seggerman is the New York-based founder of the organisation Games for Change, a group founded in 2004 that promotes the use of video games as tools for raising political and social awareness. As she sees it, "fun" is an inadequate description of what video games do in the first place. "I don't think the word is really right, I don't think a game has to be 'fun'. It has to be engaging, it has to be well-designed: what makes a game good is the balance of challenge and reward, and that is about learning."
I wouldn’t do them myself if they weren’t fun, though, and I’m not alone in that, as we’ll see…
At every step of a well designed game, you are engaged – but not necessarily entertained. It's a process she believes is fundamentally akin to some of the most serious issues in the world today. "More and more we are recognising in the 21st century that the kind of problems we face globally are genuinely complex. They involve many interrelated variables: things relating to climate change or international trade, for example. Games are systems, and they offer a good way to explore complex systems, a way that we simply didn't have before." There is, in other words, no better way to understand a complex system than by experiencing it: by role-playing, shifting variables, and seeing how the outcomes are affected.
But, Susan, you have to want to explore those systems in the first place. If your game isn’t fun, then you aren’t going to get people playing it.
There is tremendous enthusiasm for politically and ethically engaged gaming within much of the industry, but not – yet – the level of support from major developers and publishers that would be needed for the phenomenon to gain critical mass in terms of design and production values.
That’s because they know what sells. And so far, it isn’t ‘worthy’ games.
. The idea that I might have been really entertained by Darfur is Dying is a somewhat uncomfortable one. Wouldn't the fact that I really enjoyed running a virtual refugee camp be, in some ways, inherently trivialising the issues involved?
I guess that’s probably why there isn’t a ‘Sim Concentration Camp’ amongst the plethora of ‘Sim City’ and ‘Theme Park’ derivatives…
Seggerman rejects this idea, pointing to rapidly expanding array of titles that her organisation is already linked to from their website, titles that model everything from Third World farming to spotting signs of addiction in others to developing sustainable energy resources for cities.
But are they outselling ‘Call of Duty’, Susan?

They aren’t, are they. They are the sort of things that people have to be forced to play.

The rest of the article is very good, however, looking at the way gaming technology has been used by the army, what doctors could learn from it, and how it is gradually becoming the norm in schools.


manwiddicombe said...

Nintendo managed to push a 'green' agenda in their latest Pokemon releases (that my kids didn't notice but it annoyed the tits off me).

It is possible for a fun game to carry a 'socially responsible' message but I believe it is impossible to design a game around a message and make it fun.

Then again I intend to drive like a lunatic tonight, deliberately running other competitors off the road or destroying their vehicles through other methods, ignoring speed limits, taking dodgy shortcuts etc etc so I might be biased . . ..

JohnRS said...

But surely the clue is in the name? They're called "games" for a reason.

Dr Evil said...

So no AK47 in the Darfur game then? Forget it! :-)

Nick39 said...

There is a fun Darfur game. It's called Far Cry 2 and it's awesome. You work as a European mercenary doing jobs for the local warlords that they are too incompetent to do themselves, while everyone double-crosses everyone over diamonds and power.

Its like a really fun documentary.

Resident Evil 5 is like the future of Darfur when those savages finally mutate into full-on zombies.

AntiCitizenOne said...

Games have come on visually just a touch...


JuliaM said...

"It is possible for a fun game to carry a 'socially responsible' message but I believe it is impossible to design a game around a message and make it fun."

Spot on. In these sort of approaches, you have to come at it from that angle, or it's never going to get off the ground.

"But surely the clue is in the name? They're called "games" for a reason."

Quite. Forget that, and you're on a hiding to nothing, no matter how tidy the goatees of your design team are...

"So no AK47 in the Darfur game then?"

Nope, unless you choose to play as the Janjaweed, I guess.

You can play as the other side, I hope? All the good games allow you to... ;)

"There is a fun Darfur game. It's called Far Cry 2 and it's awesome."

Indeed! But I suspect Suzanne wouldn't approve...

"Games have come on visually just a touch..."

Not to mention, game sound..!

DJ said...

Anyway, what's 'genuinely complex' about blaming America for everything?

TDK said...

I don't agree.

Let's assume for a second that someone invented an engaging second life game where the player was put in situations where (s)he do good deeds. The game play would involve offering advice and trying and stop people doing things that were bad for them. The player would win points for philanthropy, building up a team to supply essential government services, raising taxes and increased smugness. No guns would be available but Exxon operatives would be vanquished with petitions and awareness raising sessions.

It's not a game that I would ever play but my life would be immeasurably improve if every progressive got hooked.