Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Two Interesting Games With a Message

I found a couple of interesting games after reading Kotaku's recent article The Complicated Truth Behind Games That Want to Change the World.  One has more gameplay time than the other, but both can be experienced in a short period of time, making them worth a quick look.


The first game is called Sweatshop.  It is essentially a tower defence-style game where you place workers instead of towers to create items of knock-off clothing instead of kill enemies.  You start with a child worker that costs less than others.  As you move up through the levels, you get different types of pricier but quicker workers to place, such as a shirt maker or a hat maker.  You need to place them around the conveyor belt strategically so that they are able to finish creating and packaging each item before it reaches the end.

The thing that intrigued me about this game was whether it used procedural rhetoric to make its point.  From the Kotaku article:
The game aims to educate players on workplace conditions around the world. "I think its strength comes from putting you in the role of the manager, someone who is still a guilty party but has some capacity for empathy," she [Mattie Brice, social justice activist and game critic] explained. "The game forces you to be efficient and min/max to keep profits high, and usually has you doing some unethical things to your workers. Instead of having an artificial story put on top of a detached mechanic or so, the game twists how you already interact with tower defense and uses that to create a connection to what's going on."
So it seems there is an argument for this.  To maximize profits and thus win the game, you have to be unethical and act as they really do in sweatshops.  I think designers of games for change need to pay more attention to procedural rhetoric if we want to see more good games of this type.


Unmanned, on the other hand, is more of a story-based game experience.  The game is presented with a split screen.  In the screenshot above, which comes from the opening sequence, the main character is shown on the left asleep, and what seems to be his dream appears on the right.  Much of the time, one side of the screen is dedicated to dialog and dialog choices.  Though you can earn medals by choosing the right dialog, this example is much less game-like than Sweatshop.

Kotaku doesn't say much about this one; just that it's "nothing short of remarkable."  The story follows a man who is apparently a soldier.  He seems to be working to stop terrorist activity.  You follow him through a typical day, where at one point he's on the cell phone talking to his wife (?) about their son, and after work he's playing war games with that son.  You get a disjointed feel for his character, and you help build it through your dialog choices.  There is much left unsaid so that you fill in the blanks, and I think that is what makes this experience so potentially powerful.


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