And speaking of mobile apps with a social purpose….
The upcoming annual Games For Change (G4C) meeting has a lot of interesting stuff, on the theme “Catalyzing Social Impact Through Digital Games”. At the very least, this gang is coming out of the ivory tower and up off their futons, to try to do something, not just talk about it.
Part of this year’s activities is the Student Challenge , which si a competition that
“invites students to make digital games about issues impacting their communities, combining digital storytelling with civic engagement.”
This year’s winners were announced last month, from local schools and game jams in NYC, Dallas, and Pittsburg. (Silicon Valley, where were you?) Students were asked to invent games on three topics,
- Climate Change (with NOAA),
- Future Communities (with Current by GE), and
- Local Stories & Immigrant Voices (with National Endowment for the Humanities).
Eighteen winners were highlighted.
The “Future Cities” games mostly are lessons on the wonders of “smart cities”, and admonitions to clean up trash. One of them has a rather compelling “heart beat” of Carbon emissions, though the game mechanics are pretty obscure, doing anything or doing nothing at all increases Carbon. How do I win?
The “Climate Change” also advocates picking up trash, as well as planting trees. There is also a quiz, and an Antarctic Adventure (though nothing even close to “Never Alone”)
The “local stories” and “immigrant stories” tell stories about immigrants, past and present. (This kids are from the US, land of immigration.) There are two alarming “adventures” that sketches how to illegally enter the US, which is a dangerous undertaking with a lot of consequences. Not something I like to see “gamified”.
Overall, the games are very heavy on straight story telling, with minimal game-like features. Very much like the “educational games” the kids no doubt have suffered through for years. And not much like the games everyone really likes to play. One suspects that there were teachers and other adults behind the scenes shaping what was appropriate.
The games themselves are pretty simple technically, which is inevitable given the short development time and low budgets. The games mostly made the best of what they had in the time available.
I worry that these rather limited experiences will give the students a false impression of both technology and story telling. The technology used is primitive, they did not have realistic market or user testing, and the general game designs are unoriginal. That’s fine for student projects, but not really a formula for real world success, and has little to do with real game or software development.
Worse, the entire enterprise is talking about it. One game or 10,000 games that tell you (again) to pick up trash doesn’t get the trash picked up. If you want to gamify neighborhood clean up, you are going to need to tie it to the actual physical world, e.g., a “trashure hunt”, with points for cleaning up and preventing litter.
These kids did a super job on their projects, but I think the bar was set far too low. Let’s challenge kids to actually do something, not just make a digital story about it. How would you use game technology to do it? I don’t know. That’s what the challenge is.
- Games for Change, Announcing the winners of the 2017 G4C Student Challenge, in Games For Change Blog. 2017. http://www.gamesforchange.org/2017/07/announcing-the-2017-g4c-student-challenge-winners/