Recently I have been spending more time attempting to define the core concept of a educational/transformational game – what I want the end result/tranformation to be. As I spent time on why and what exactly it is that I want people to get out of games that unnecessarily teach, I stumbled (and rolled back a few years) across the idea of ’advergames’ and how they have been ‘molded’ into persuasive games (advergames that focus on strong opinions..).
It is all based off the idea of games like any art form can cause have emotional – psychological – expressive – persuasive qualities (Look up Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games book). Games can communicate a form of opinion and narrative which when wielded by someone with strong opinions (not passionate opinions but strong ones… not sure if there is a difference but there feels like there is a difference to me).
There are those games which claim being serious games (pointless name who wants to be all serious and stiff when playing games – remember play is intrinsically connected to fun – refer to my older post… blatant self-promotion…. Sigh…). Serious games are names given to games that think too much of themselves and serious (so-called) game makers are probably full of it (this is an opinion and is in no way proven although it is my serious belief). I mean who wants to play a game that is serious, people play games to have some sort of fun. A serious game is like one of those in-school games that all the kids play knowing full well the game is teaching them something and don’t take seriously at all making up their own rules and giggling while attempting to break away from the seriousness of it all.
[At this point I will stop rambling… at least about my hate for serious game… I mean seriously a ‘serious game’ isn’t that a serious oxymoron. Someone needs to seriously think about the serious concept of a serious game. Just because its ‘serious’ doesn’t mean it is more important or above all else – insert ‘holier than thou’ meme here…]
It is about being a simple idea/opinion. I do not want to teach directly about a concept or enforce or enhance knowledge about a subject but rather merely introduce a thought of ‘Hmm, that’s interesting‘ or ‘I didn’t know that there was another way‘ or even ‘never thought of it like that before‘. I do not want to be all serious about it and force stuff down a person’s throat or make them sit through a lecture-like narrative. In the end if they play a game and sometime later it hits them that such a perspective exists out there in the world, I have succeeded (not really measurable is it…). ‘I want to provoke thought’ (said like a man who dreams of going to Mars in 2025) is a far grander vision than I think what the reality of these games is.
A really smart guy at Stanford – Dr. BJ Fogg stated that ‘persuasive technology is to build interactive technology to affect perception’ (I paraphrase subjectively – this is what I think he means…)
Here interactive technology is a game and it’s agency on perception is through depicting some topic whether it is educational or transformational or whatever – Nowadays it seems as though both educational and transformational games are the same thing (hmm… does transformation educate you or is education transformational ….. maybe both…)
Now here I must place a ‘proceed with caution’ sign, honestly not many people who play such a game will get it. I really do think if you want to change the world and the perception of billions I am not sure if that will happen; maybe if you are backed by a billionaire who would fund everything(?, I don’t even know what everything is…). But if your hope is that even one person changes their perception or picks up a book to know more about what you’re talking about then I go right ahead. Another way to ensure success if that’s what you care about is to keep your audience small. Focus on saying I want to focus on 14-15 year olds who are going through identity-crisis (that may be too extreme of a social aspect but I will assume you get the point and move on) or 9th grade science concepts on magnetism (better example of a focused audience). Then the people you serve are the students of 9th grade science and their educators. Obviously you yourself will need to know more than just 9th grade science or the psycholgy of identity issues to make the game but whatever.
To build such a persuasive transformational game, (not sure if education fits a similarglove but maybe replace strong opinion with educational matter or EM) first have a strong opinion (EM).
Then take that strong opinion and look at some system in the world that best represents that opinion (EM).
Now see if you can mold that system into an interactive format (any system that involves actions rather than thought is easier of course if you want to challenge yourself identity crisis may be for you to take on). Do not perform something like ’gamification’ and cpy real life and add menus and nonsensical feedback —- but truly make a game based on the system.
Resource management games like Cities: Skyline and strategy games like Europa Universalis are good examples of taking real world systems and using them as inspirations for games. The best game of all time in this sort of vein in my opinion is probably Scrabble.
Lastly in order to achieve simplicity and transcendence use your strong opinion (EM) to craft a ‘narrative’ not for the game but for the player to experience as he interacts with the game.
Here the narrative the player experiences should be that new perspective that unknown ‘thing’ you want known. I believe the thought is ‘That goes against my general knowledge’ is the right one that needs to be hit. Later on when the person suddenly recognizes that mechanic in the real world the reaction hoped for is ‘wait a second… that game …’
and by then we will have won.