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Design Contest Highlights Video Games With a Purpose 43

Posted by Soulskill
from the other-than-saving-the-world-from-zombies dept.
drew30319 writes "Game developers' website Gamasutra discusses a video game design contest with socially redeeming qualities — is this a productive role video games can play? Quoting: 'A unique game design competition aimed at teen violence prevention has announced its winners, revealing that Grace's Diary is taking home the top prize. The annual contest is sponsored by Jennifer Ann's Group, a non-profit organization focused on teen violence education and prevention since its founding in 2006. The "Life. Love. Game Design Contest" challenges entrants to design a game about the issue — without using violence itself.' The winning games are available to play online now."
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Design Contest Highlights Video Games With a Purpose

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  • I thought we already had this in postal....
  • by twidarkling (1537077) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @12:53PM (#32397906)

    Games already have a purpose. To be fun. They can have secondary purposes. Training reflexes, imparting information, yadda yadda yadda. However, games with a *message* often push the message at the expense of the primary purpose of enjoyment. After all, you're not going to keep playing a game if you're not having fun in some fashion. So while these all may be beautifully design games that really speak about the issue, how effective will they be generally?

    Honestly, a situation like this is probably the *worst* to try and get across in a game. It's aimed at people in their mid-teens, it says. Okay, so those people should be old enough to have a talk with and explain the dangers of abusive relationships and such. And if you can't have a talk with them, how the bloody hell do you expect a game to work?

    "Hey Suzie/Johnny, I know you completely disregard everything I ever tell you, but I want you to play this game and really pay attention to the message it's trying to tell you." Because they're really going to pay attention to a message from a video game given to them by the people they won't listen to in the first place (even IF the game's fun enough to get them past being preached at).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      So... video games can't have a message AND be fun at the same time? Moreso, you don't think that the "message" can EVER add enjoyment?

      To me, your post sounds like "No violence, no fun." That's like saying the only movies worth watching are action flicks, and the only "emotion" you should ever use while watching movies is the "HOLY CRAP HOW AWESOME AND SWEET" one.

      It's that attitude towards games (the one that denies the possibility of a "serious" use of games) that is holding the medium back.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by twidarkling (1537077)

        So... video games can't have a message AND be fun at the same time? Moreso, you don't think that the "message" can EVER add enjoyment?

        No, but people who want to get a message out generally don't give a shit about the "fun" aspect. And no, I don't think giving a "message" can add enjoyment. I think you can have themes, but any person who goes in to designing a game with the frame of mind "I must tell people that X is bad" isn't going to also go in to it with the frame of mind that "I must make this something people want to play." They usually believe that the strength of their message is enough to make whatever they make compelling. And ye

        • "If you're going in with an anti-violence message, then everything is flat and preachy. Characters only act how they are in order to reinforce the message. "Oh no, I shot a guy, and now my life is horrible! Why ever must we live in such a violent world!" "
          Like Tarantino? [abstrusegoose.com]

        • by shentino (1139071)

          Roman gladiator arenas wouldn't get half the attendance they did if nobody got hurt or bloodied.

    • What about foldit (Score:3, Interesting)

      by goombah99 (560566)

      Fold proteins to cure disease and outscore your opponent.

      • by skids (119237)

        Honestly I tried that thing and found I was exerting more mental energy trying to figure out how to actually get the stupid backbones to go where I mouse them, than a i was being clever about the important stuff. Really very frustrating. Needs UI improvements.

        • by goombah99 (560566)

          It's under continuous development and refinement. The project its self is divided into two logical compartments. Half the team is studying how best to implement the algorithm and the other half is studying how users interact and how to improve that.

    • by Ephemeriis (315124) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @01:14PM (#32398124)

      Games already have a purpose. To be fun.

      That's very true... And also true for most literature, and movies, and television, and plays, and board games... But that doesn't keep people from trying to convey useful messages or morals through those mediums. And it shouldn't keep people from trying to convey useful messages or morals through the medium of gaming either.

      games with a *message* often push the message at the expense of the primary purpose of enjoyment.

      Again, true. But also true of all the other mediums used to push a message.

      Honestly, a situation like this is probably the *worst* to try and get across in a game. It's aimed at people in their mid-teens, it says. Okay, so those people should be old enough to have a talk with and explain the dangers of abusive relationships and such. And if you can't have a talk with them, how the bloody hell do you expect a game to work?

      Folks don't generally respond well to being talked at. They don't typically see the message as applying to their current situation. They tend to get defensive, or assume that it can't happen to them, or that things really aren't that bad.

      There's a reason why we tend to disregard what our parents tell us, and then go and make the same dumb mistakes they did. We learn best from first-hand experience.

      A good book, or movie, or game can be involving enough to get past the usual defenses you erect when being talked-at. Can make you feel involved in the storyline and invested in the characters. Can actually get the message through to you when a speech might not.

      Granted, you have to actually pick up the game/book/movie/whatever in the first place... And you're unlikely to be receptive if some concerned individual hands it to you and tells you to pay close attention to the message... But if you've got meaningful/useful content like this scattered through random, entertaining games - it might be helpful.

      Aesop's Fables are a good example - they're full of morals and lessons... When they're used at the appropriate age, the kid just thinks they're fun stories about animals and whatnot. If you try to sit some brat of a kid down and teach them about morals by reading them a story at a later age, however, they aren't going to get much from your efforts.

      To a certain degree we're already doing this (or at least attempting to) with other mediums.

      We've got sitcoms and cartoons that try to present good rolemodels. Characters we wouldn't mind our children emulating. We try to throw good messages into the movies aimed at our children.

      Why not try to do something similar with video games?

      • by twidarkling (1537077) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @01:29PM (#32398252)

        Granted, you have to actually pick up the game/book/movie/whatever in the first place... And you're unlikely to be receptive if some concerned individual hands it to you and tells you to pay close attention to the message... But if you've got meaningful/useful content like this scattered through random, entertaining games - it might be helpful.

        This! This is how I think it would be done best. Don't make it the focus, and don't concentrate it. I could see that being a great success. If it was pervasive without being invasive. It wouldn't be terribly difficult to work in to most non-FPS games nowadays even. Random side quests, moral choice systems, all those kinds of mechanics are tailor-made for adding meaning, depth, and themes to games. There's no need to make adding a message the focus of a game, when you could instead sucker-punch a person. Heck, here's an idea for a horror game that would fit in with the anti-abusive message these games want:

        You're dealing with a supernatural horror that's killing people in brutal ways, and you're slowly losing your sanity. Your one link keeping you going during your investigation is your old friend, recently entered in to a relationship. Calling or visiting your friend boosts your sanity. However, if you don't pay close attention to how your friend is acting, they're slowly cut off from you by their abusive significant other. If you don't manage to convince them to leave, at some point during the game, they're killed by the SO/cut off from you completely, and you lose the biggest and best way to recover sanity, and you make the game world much lonelier, and take a shot directly at the gamer, too. Then you're not shoving it in the gamer's face, but they're going to learn about the signs of an abusive relationship, the possible consequences, etc.

        • by Jesus_666 (702802)

          moral choice systems

          Careful, though. I haven't yet seen any moral choice system that worked, except for those where any putcome is presented free of judgement. For instance, the KOTOR games allow various choices which lead you to the light or dark side of the force. Either path is presented as appropriate, though. The system works.

          And then you get stinkers like BioShock where you get to choose between being Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler. No, there is no in-between; you're either an inhumanly virtuous paragon of all that is g

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)

        That's very true... And also true for most literature, and movies, and television, and plays, and board games... But that doesn't keep people from trying to convey useful messages or morals through those mediums. And it shouldn't keep people from trying to convey useful messages or morals through the medium of gaming either.

        It reminds me of a writing advice : forget about your message. Focus on making a good text, a good story and, if you have an ounce of talent, your own vision of the world we be embedded in your work.

        I think it can apply to game design as well.

        • by DSwitz (1343055)
          This is great advice for a writer, but the problem with game design is that there are many people working on the same text and story. So there are many different visions of the world working on a single video game, and it's difficult to get a team to have a unified sense of meaning. Possible, but definitely difficult.
  • How is it a game if it's played for some value beyond having fun? I'd call that work, or edutainment.
    • by Keill (920526)

      There is NO equivalent of game for 'work' (i.e. productive) - in fact games other than those meant for 'play' (non-productive), are usually called 'serious' games or something similar - (Tom Clancy used that in Airborne for example).

      Games are merely something we DO in a structured competitive environment. The nature of what we do, the competition, or the structure involved DOES NOT MATTER. (Hence the use of 'game' during the first world war). For this reason, until someone comes up with an exact equivale

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        There is NO equivalent of game for 'work'

        I see you've never played EVE...

  • by SoapBox17 (1020345) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @01:23PM (#32398198) Homepage
    I "played" the winning "game" for about 5 minutes. I think I "played" all the way through. Outside of the few bad grammatical errors, this was not entertaining at all. It's not even a game. It is a mildly interactive narrative. You are in this girl's room, and you can click on things in the room and she will talk about them. ("Oh, that's a picture of my friends..."). There's a print out of a violence prevention website she talks about. The main "goal" seems to be the cell phone you click it you'll learn a boring sob-story about a friend of hers with an abusive boyfriend. Then the credits roll. This does not qualify as a game. It would not teach anyone anything.

    If would take an extra 5-10 minutes to add a "choose your own adventure" to this and actually provide a mild form of entertainment where you get to decide what happens, and maybe in one version you convince the friend to get help or something. This fails on so many levels. But I guess, if anyone ever wants to win a game design contest, anyone could win this if they were able to put in more than 30 minutes of effort into the "design." (I admit the art was decent, that's really the only redeeming quality.)
    • Yeah, that's what I was wondering. Is there no way to "win," then? I played through once and found only Grace's print-out of the JenniferAnn.org website. Found nothing else, called Natalie, "lost."
      I played again, but this time when I clicked the picture, there was a dialogue that hadn't played before about Natalie's clothes. I clicked around to make sure there wasn't anything else, so then I called her, thinking "This is it! Now I have evidence!"

      But sadly, no. The conversation went no differently. As f
    • by SendBot (29932)

      agreed - I just finished playing the winning game and found it extremely anti-climactic. The point of that game is to learn that insecure girls put up with abusive boys and there's absolutely nothing I can do to help. Even though I found the prevention poster in my room with a hotline number AND ADDED IT TO MY MEMOS, I couldn't talk about that on the phone with her. Gee, compared to talking about how the party went or telling her that her boyfriend sucks (both of which will get her to hang up on you and nev

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        Yeah, that was barely a "game" at all. I don't know what these guys were thinking. Someone should beat some sense into them.

        • by SendBot (29932)

          Someone should beat some sense into them.

          And then a concerned friend should call them and ask who beat that sense in to them, only to be met with "...", "...", "it was nothing, I walked into a door. Good thing Ken was here to help me up."

    • There's what, four things that fit on the memo? Should be your first clue.
      -Poster (computer -> bookshelf)
      -Style Changed (tennis racket-> Photo)
      -Cell phone (click on cell phone and then decide not to call)
      -Party (sign on floor next to chair)

      Here's the conversation solution
      1)Talk about the party
      2) Tell her ken might be dangerous
      3) Talk about her cell phone
      4) Use website

      That said, I think having multiple object examinations cue off each other without indication is somewhat bad design.

    • I have played through all of them. Every single one is undeniably preachy and cleary centered around the theme. Their mistake is not being more subtle, because few people would go out of their way for playing a preachy game. People actually involved in a abusive relationship would probably actively avoid it, by of the abuser. Even if they were trying to escape, they would probably seek help, not play games. The only way it could help someone is by making the friends of the victims aware, but even then they

  • Jella's Friends deserves a couple points for using a more-or-less correct 16-color VGA palette.

  • I nominate Grand Theft Auto. It's so addictive. It causes a large percentage of teenage males to lock them selves up in their dorm rooms and basements. Like prison only cheaper.

    And when they do eventually emerge, they're muscles are to weak to attack anyone.

  • The moral of the second game seems to be that if you (and this is an encouraged practice) dig through a potential date's belongings while they are busy preparing dinner for you, you will find all the necessary evidence to pass judgment upon them in a couple minutes. In fact, you really don't need to dig much further than the first piece of evidence because if they are a bad person, everything in their house will point to it! The situation is completely black and white, and hence the logical extension is tha

The confusion of a staff member is measured by the length of his memos. -- New York Times, Jan. 20, 1981

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