In a sure sign that gaming has moved closer to the center of the media universe, a number of nonprofit advocacy groups have devoted significant effort to creating online games that promote their messages. I’ve been hearing this assertion for a while — and a quick web search uncovers MSM coverage (such as this) of a budding movement to design such games. But I now know this trend is for real, and not just wishful thinking, because in the last week I actually encountered two real-life examples in my everyday online travels.
One, “Planet Green Game,” is sponsored by Starbucks, which is using some significant advertising dollars to promote the game aggressively. (I found it through a Starbucks ad at a newspaper site). The game itself was developed in partnership with an environmental group called Global Green USA. Players travel around the imaginary town of Evergreen, engaging in challenges built around ordinary activities and the goal of reducing their environmental footprint as they go. You can drive a hybrid car, bike, or take the bus. You have thirty seconds to spot all the environmental problems in the kitchen. You go to the building supply store and play a memory game centered on green renovation products. And so forth…
The other example, the ReDistricting Game, apparently lacks corporate sponsorship but has lots of support from various advocacy groups pushing for redistricting reform in Congress and the states. The “missions” involve redrawing lines of districts to manipulate electoral outcomes. I liked this one better because the video game format more naturally presented the exact problem the sponsors want to highlight. I am a political junkie and I know all about gerrymandering, but sitting at the computer and moving the lines around to do it myself showed just how easy it is. And of course the line-drawers in the real world rely on sophisticated computer modeling to do their work. (Hat tip: learned about this one from the New York Times politics blog, the Caucus).
No one is going to confuse the often less-than-dynamic game play and didactic asides in these titles with Resistance: Fall of Man, or even with the lovably earnest Sim City. But they are kind of fun. And I strongly suspect that people who would never sit for thirty seconds to read a preachy web site about these serious public issues might spend significant time tooling around Evergreen in a Prius or tinkering with the map of Jefferson State. That can be an entry point: both games start with short video intros, similar to those in many video games, that frame the designers’ political view. And there are links to learn more information, take action, and send the link with the game on to friends. As political activists of all stripes learn to harness the power of the internet more effectively, we are going to see a lot more of these games for a cause.