Tuesday, October 23

Meaningful videogames on the rise

Gamers have seen this environment before. Yet instead of a barrage of semi-automatic weaponry at their disposal, they have a Koran. Rather than side-stepping and running through the level, the player is hanging around, chatting to other detainees. Their's little else to do.

Set in the infamous detainee center, "Escape from Woomera" is a MOD (modification) of the immensely popular first person shooter, Half Life. Users can play as a variety of inmates, each with their own backstories, in a thoroughly researched recreation of the camp. "Television footage, press and radio reports, and the recollections of former detainees and employees will be used to mimic the layout and daily life in the centres, down to meal times, the way guards communicate with each other and 'episodic violence'." (SMH) Now archived at SelectParks, the game is one of a growing number of so-called "meaningful games", seeking to introduce a greater quotient of educational, political, or cultural content to an industry dominated by technically brilliant but superficial shooters.

Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games is a company founded on such a premise, with a slew of titles like FatWorld, Presidential Pong, and Food Import Folly. Popular pieces like Airport Security were created within weeks of new legislation on aviation carry-ons, as the "video game equivalent of an editorial cartoon". Reviews from the New York Times revealed some of the power of the medium to force players to experience a situation. "I’ll just say it’s somewhat stupid, and requires fast reflexes and an ability to adapt to absurd and arbitrary rules changes. Just like real airport security." Strangely Bogost doesn't see any ethical dilemmas in developing a variety of commercial games for clients like dessert chain Cold Stone, or creating "Xtreme Errands" for hulking SUV Jeep, which "challenges players to complete tasks utilizing the unique features of this vehicle."

Gonzalo Frasca's first game "Kabul Kaboom!" was entirely produced on a coast to coast flight. "I was disgusted at seeing how the most powerful country on Earth was bombing the crap out of one of the poorest, so I created this game. I wasn't expecting much when I posted it online, but after a few days it had several thousands players from all over the world and this encouraged me to keep using videogames as a form of political expression and experimentation." Frasca's game "September 12th" was a seminal work of the genre, mixing easily accessible web-based play with a controversial political message that still causes hate-mail to this day.

Sadly, designers and developers in the New Zealand Game Developers Association don't seem to stray outside the commercial box. One of the few major studios, Wellington-based Sidhe Interactive pumps out titles like "GripShift" and "Rugby League 2" as well as aligned properties like "Jackass: the video game". Straylight studios major effort has been a 2d multiplayer battleship game, Star-Tag, and Binary Star's rather traditional looking "Homeland" has been in progress for years.

For more 'meaningful' games, check out: Operation Pedopriest, Ayiti: The cost of life, The McGame, and PeaceMaker.

No comments: