People 'n' Issues

Games for a cause

October 4th, 2017
At the recent GamesCom convention in Cologne, Germany, a startling new trends became apparent, writes game designer JADE MATHIESON.
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Your typical gamer is no longer young, white and male. Nor are games strictly for entertainment. The principles behind game design are being applied in other areas, including education and training, public health, advocacy for social causes, and improving organisational productivity.

With South Africa’s high rates of smartphone adoption, games provide a new channel to engage customers, employees and the general public.

Those were some of my insights from GamesCom, Europe’s biggest gaming convention which took place recently in Cologne, Germany. It’s not quite as big as E3 in Los Angeles, but it still attracts all the best-known names in gaming. The Germans accommodated an estimated 350 000 visitors and over 900 companies.

A number of “games for a cause” made me sit up and take notice. Here are some of them:

1. Antura and the Letters

With hundreds of refugees fleeing the conflicts in Libya and Syria, many children are being denied the opportunity to learn. Antura and the Letters is a game designed to help such children become literate in Arabic. The game engine appears solid and could be re-skinned for other languages.

2. Antidote

Created by Pyson Games, Antidote teaches children about stem cells and the immune system. Their aim is to challenge some of the unscientific beliefs that have become commonplace during the Trump presidency. But even though the game is based on scientific facts, it is a classic defense strategy game with nice graphics and engaging gameplay. The game shows that it is possible to take complex subjects like the immune system and dry facts, and turn them into fun learning experiences.

3. Across the Line

The decision to abort an embryo isn’t an easy one. Yet many women who should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies are subjected to ridicule and scorn by protestors outside abortion clinics. Across the Line, which I didn’t see but heard about at GamesCon, uses virtual reality to allow others to experience what it is like to live through the taunting and thereby can create empathy. Other possible applications of the concept can help bridge differences on other divisive topics by allowing people to immerse themselves in the experiences of others.

4. Lost Words

Expanding the vocabulary of children doesn’t have to be as boring as telling them to consult a thesaurus each time. In Lost Words, a player is tasked with choosing between words to explore a story. Each word choice leads down a different narrative arch, encouraging players to think about what the words mean. As the story unfolds, they can use more words to change their environment – illustrating nicely the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword.

* Jade Mathieson is a game designer and creative lead at Sea Monster. She headed up the team behind Old Mutual’s Moneyversity website, among other.

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