Examples of games that teach
- International Racing Squirrels is a game designed to teach kids about finance. The player manages a team of squirrels who periodically race cars, also managing their savings accounts and credit cards.
- Ayiti: The Cost of Life is a serious game about living in poverty in Haiti. Players manage a family, making hard decisions such as whether to send the children to school for an education or to work. This game is incredibly difficult to complete without the deaths of family members, though it's possible to beat it without any casualties. This teaches players about the difficulty of life in a third world country.
- Power Planets, designed by Area/Code, is a game about teaching environmentalism and the idea that we need to maintain a safe planet for our children who would inheriting it. Players are given a rotating planet and they can choose to place trees, windmills, and other environmentally-friendly structures or power plants and factories if they need short-term gains. After a certain amount of time, players pass on their planets to another player, while inheriting a planet from someone else. They can choose to play with environmentalism in mind so that inheriting players have an easier start, or they can completely ruin other player's games by polluting their planets.
- Bioshock is an example of badly designed teaching. Players can either make the moral choice of saving the little sister's lives or the in-game beneficial choice of harvesting ADAM from the little sisters, effectively killing them. However, since the game gives you lots of ADAM later on for saving all the little sisters, it makes the moral vs. gameplay choice moot.
How to teach gamers
- The goal of the workshop was to design a game that would "make things better for people." How do we bridge the gap from playing a game to changing the player's behavior outside of the game?
- Product Placement - universally disliked by gamers, but incredibly effective. After many hours of play, unobtrusive ads will seep into the players' minds.
- Directly ask the player through a popup or post a call to action - the blunt approach, takes the players out of the game but sometimes is a necessary step.
- Overt representation - Trash Tycoon, a game designed by Naomi Clark, teaches players about taking trash and turning them into something special. In the game, the character literally walks around town, picking up trash to eventually turn them into prizes and other contraptions.
- Visualization of information - Infographics have been successful in displaying a lot of information in a visually engaging way. Use clever and eye-grabbing methods to display your messaging.
- Systemic representation - Killer Flu is a game about seasonal and pandemic flus and utilizes the inversion of roles. The player plays as the flu, trying to spread across a city and kill as many people as possible. However, the player will find that it's hard to spread rapidly and kill a huge group of people. This game was made in response to the false scare of bird flu.
- Parody and shock value - PETA's games, such as Mario Kills Tanooki and Super Tofu Boy, take familiar brands and juxtaposes them with ridiculous and shocking imagery. This easily grabs attention and sends the brand message across.
- When trying to deliver a message through game design, it's important to not fall in the trap of uninteresting choices like Bioshock did. This is especially hard when the brand message has a clear right and wrong answer (ie. always invest in insurance funds, always diet and exercise, etc).
- Think about the choice between hamburgers and vegetables. Ask any kid what they want to eat and they'll all jump for joy and say "hamburgers!"
- However, ask the kids what is the right food to eat and they'll reluctantly choose Vegetable. This is equivalent to Hamburgers giving you +2 points and Vegetables giving you +4 points in a game. There is a clear right and wrong choice.
- What if Hamburgers gave you +2 points now and Vegetables gave you +4 points later? There is a tradeoff here, but it depends on the game on how interesting this tradeoff is. Bioshock did it in a bad way. Too simple of a system will make this tradeoff uninteresting.
- What if Hamburgers gave you +10 points and the power to destroy your enemies, but you'll eventually die of a heart attack when the power runs out? Meanwhile, Vegetables gave you +5 points and no powers, so you have to avoid your enemies yourself. Now the tradeoff is unclear to the player and more interesting.