Monday, May 21, 2007

Social impact games

At a first glance at the official genre of these games, “Social Impact Gaming,” I immediately, as a video-gamer, thought “lame.” But on the other hand, as a political science student, I thought it could be a great awareness tool, but I was still skeptical. So, I gave them an honest, open-minded opportunity. Here’s what I played.

I started in the Public-Policy area. I couldn’t believe that there were public policy games! I intern in the public policy sector, so I was very interested in what they had to offer. Unfortunately I didn’t find anything of much worth. When browsing I saw a game that I own, which said a lot about my social life. It’s actually a fun game, but since it’s a current events game, its now outdated but check it out here. So now with heavy depression sitting, I started with the budgeting game. It sounded like a very interesting and useful game, since the government seems to always be in some sort of budget crisis (that’s weird, who would’ve thought the government would have trouble collecting taxes from citizens!?). The original Massbudget for the Massechusets budget game didn’t work, so I tried to help out Bloomberg turn his bottom line green in NY. Trim social services here, cut a little spending for the loan paybacks here, lay-off a couple thousand government employees (they’re terribly inefficient anyways), and there it is: a one million dollar surplus! It was pretty easy for me to do – why can’t Mayor Bloomberg do it so easily. Well, the answer is the reason I originally thought social impact games would be lame: it’s completely different than a real-life budget process and the only way to make it work is to have artificial intelligence in the game as good as human intelligence – and that won’t happen. Although I did send it in, so maybe it will actually have an “impact.”

Ok. So I’ll give another public policy game a try. Hmmm…how about some good old corporate greed hating! Link here. This is a simple “match-the-devil-in-flesh-CEO-face-to-his-or-her-name-game.” Aside from being extremely boring, I did learn a lot about the details of some of those ever-referred to corporate scandals. It’s a good idea, but it’s hardly a video-game and I can’t really see the importance of it. Yes, corporate crimes are bad, but is it necessary to have the skill of matching the perpetrator’s face to the scandal, while answering the follow-up detail question correctly. I didn’t gain anything from this game.

I then switched to political and social games. I was intrigued by “Catechumen” – the Christian first-person-shooter. I had no idea Jesus was down with first-person-shooters, even if they’re shooting angel dust or whatever else it is that they shoot from the first person angle. Its ridiculous. Sorry God, but as Nietzsche said, you’re dead. Unfortunately you can’t play it, you have to buy it (typical Christian gaming trick).

So I moved on from purgatory to Darfur. The game “Darfur is Dying" was made by MTV U, which makes me respect it less, to be honest. The game is made up of two environements, the desert where you run to get water without being run over by the Janjeweed and the other is at the village, where there is a countdown to an attack on the camp. This game is terribly unrealistic. There is a directional meter that tells you where the water is, the Janjeweed don’t shoot their guns, and farms grow food in seconds. I just don’t see the value of this. I don’t think there is any good way of making someone feel what the refugees feel. I know that feelings can be a powerful tool, but I don’t think that tool is attainable through this kind of thing. It’s naïve to think that a video game by MTV U will raise awareness of Darfur. If someone has the interest to play the game, then they are already aware.

Lastly, I gave a business game a try. This was probably the best (I thought they were all crap, though) of the games I’ve played. It’s a British better business simulation in which you respond to a memo or some other kind of announcement or news flash by choosing an action to take from three given options. It then alters the following questions based on what you choose, and also lets you know how the shareholders, employees, and community groups feel about your actions. It’s sort of like a ranked choose your own path book, but a simulation. It helped one realize the dilemma that a CEO faces when making a decision, but that’s about all the value I got out of it. Not much to offer, but slightly entertaining for the first four questions.

In Summary, I thought they all weren’t very entertaining (I know, they’re not supposed to be) and not very informative. My reason for gaming has been to not think about all the bad things going on in life, so why do I want to be a Darfur refugee. But these weren’t made for gamers (a point made obvious by very simple controls/graphics/gameplay). So I ask the makers this, why would a non-gamer choose to learn this way? And how much social impact will they have at a site called I felt like knowing it was made to be an impact game took away from the impact that it could’ve had. But, I’m not ruling out their potential yet. Simulations are the future classroom – isn’t that what a classroom is, a big simulation?

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