25 March, 2007
So, let’s get serious. I know, I know, what a switch. ;)
But, let’s put our thoughts towards designs for serious games. What are some worthy goals, and how can we make effective games?
Serious games have gotten quite a bit of attention over the last few years. One of my favorites is The McDonald’s Video Game, where you take control of all aspects of the hamburger megacorporation we all love to hate. But, the one thing to notice here is that the game isn’t a simple, thin morality tale. Instead, the game gives you a goal to accomplish (increase profits), but how you do it makes a difference. Although the game isn’t a 100% simulation, you can see how tough it is to make things all work together. Being environmentally conscious and making a profit are sometimes conflicting goals. Not to say that there isn’t any bias here: most games end in you tanking the company despite your best efforts. But, instead of cheering on the demise of the company, the game laments the fact that, “years of corporate culture have been destroyed.”
This game is interesting because it breaks some rules that people keep repeating. For example, the user interface isn’t very friendly, but this is part of the game. Having to switch back and forth between different areas in the game shows how difficult it is to balance all the different needs. Focus too much on the restaurant and your beef supply might shrink too much. Focus on the corporate level and slacking employees will destroy your profits. Spend too much time try to cull weak cows and an unanswered environmental challenge will cost you dearly. The message in the game is that there are no easy answers to the problem, and in the end you will probably still end up ruining rainforests, upsetting customers, and bankrupting a company despite your best efforts to please everyone. However, the game does a decent job of making you think that a viable solution can be found in the next game.
Another major source of serious games is Persuasive Games, which has made quite a few high-profile serious games. One of the most notable is Airport Security where you play the part of a airport screener keeping track of what inconsequential items are banned at that point in time. I feel that these games, in general, are a bit more like morality plays. It doesn’t take long in Airport Security before you learn that seemingly arbitrary restrictions make life harder for screener as well as passengers, for example.
One not-quite-game-related thing I noticed recently was an interesting captcha system developed my Microsoft Research (yeah, don’t hold that against the idea!) Asirra is a captcha system where you have to identify cats from dogs. The interesting twist is that the images of cats and dogs are from Petfinder.com, and each image has an “adopt me” link under it. It’s a rather cute idea that tries to secure websites while providing a service for a worthy cause. Not quite a game, as I said, but still an interesting way to help a cause.
So, with all these examples, what type of serious game would you make? Consider these aspects in your answer:
- What’s the serious goal of the game?
- How do you make sure you aren’t too preachy or heavy-handed?
- What is the interesting gameplay element?
- What makes the game sticky? In other words, what makes people want to keep playing it?
- Why should people care? What makes it interesting to share with friends?
Now, let’s hear your ideas.