Heavy Rain

Spaceteam Parent Impact Guide

Spaceteam Player Impact Guide

Watch_Dogs Impact Guide for Parents

Watch_Dogs Impact Guide for Players

Thomas Was Alone Parent Impact Guide

Thomas Was Alone Player Impact Guide

World of Warcraft (WoW) Parent Impact Guide

World of Warcraft (WoW) Player Impact Guide

The Walking Dead Game Parent Impact Guide

The Walking Dead Game Player Impact Guide

Papers, Please Parent Impact Guide

Papers, Please Player Impact Guide

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Parent Impact Guide

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Player Impact Guide

We the Jury Parent Impact Guide

We the Jury Player Impact Guide

Do I Have a Right? Impact Guide for Players

In the game Do I Have a Right?, you explore the U.S. Constitution and its amendments by running a brand new law firm. Each lawyer you hire specializes in a few specific amendments and it’s your job to screen the incoming clients and match their cases to the appropriate expert. The Constitution only protects specific rights in specific situations and it is important to understand what rights the amendments give citizens and to recognize what information is relevant in each client’s story. You only have seven days to make your firm a success—so make it count!

PeaceMaker Impact Guide for Players

PeaceMaker is a political simulation game from ImpactGames in which players take on the role of either the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President and attempt to create peace between the two countries. Choosing to play as either Israel or Palestine directs a player to acknowledge the needs of both sides, though players are able to focus primarily on the country of their choosing, learning their motives and needs in depth. Beyond managing pressing political issues, players are tasked with listening to the needs of their people, exploring different social, economic, and cultural concerns both unique and shared between the two countries. Beginning as a student project in 2005, PeaceMaker grew to become one of the most important serious games created to date. Described as a “video game to teach peace” by its creators, the game has gone on to receive high praise for its gameplay and immersive educational simulation. Notably, PeaceMaker received the 2007 award for Best Transformation Game at the Games for Change annual contest, along with placing as a finalist in both the Serious Games Showcase as well as Ashoka’s Entrepreneuring Peace contest.

Accidental Game Publishers: Foundations, Universities, Government and Non-Profits

Accidental Game Publishers
Foundations, Universities, Government and Non-Profits

Alan Gershenfeld

Foundations, universities, government agencies and non-profits that fund games to further their learning, health and social impact goals are game publishers – and yet most do not realize it. These research and impact focused organizations did not set out to become game publishers and certainly do not consider themselves game publishers, but they have taken on all of the key functions of a game publisher.

In the game business, a publisher serves the following functions:

• provides capital to make games
• selects development teams to design and create games
• manages developers through the game development process
• ensures the games reach their target market and meet their financial goals

When a foundation, university or non-profit decides to fund a game they are essentially responsible for all of the same functions:

• they provide capital for games (often through grants)
• they select developers to make games (usually through an RFP process)
• they are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the games they fund are completed and that they reach their target audience
• they track the overall impact of the game

Unfortunately most of these organizations are not staffed to effectively manage these functions. Millions of dollars have been invested in impact and research-based games that are sitting on shelves because they ran out of money, shut down because developers ran into technical troubles or have reached only a handful of players because they are not fun, do not fill a clear need or are not effectively marketed and distributed.

The problem is not in the quality of the research. There is an exciting, diverse and growing body of research highlighting how digital entertainment can transform learning or make a positive social impact. The problem is that most of this research is disconnected from the development of sustainable business models and publishing strategies and the initial team structure rarely have these skill-sets.

The fact is, publishing engaging, impactful and sustainable computer and video games is extremely difficult and requires significant domain expertise. The process involves a complex set of competencies in software development, interactive entertainment/game design as well as a deep understanding of diverse and constantly evolving platforms, distribution channels and business models.

So, how can we turn accidental game publishers into effective game publishers?

There is no silver bullet solution, but we can start this process by better understanding how successful commercial game publishers operate and how to develop methodologies for adapting these best practices to the impact game sector. While a complete analysis of this process is beyond the scope of this paper, there are a few high level approaches that can greatly increase the liklihood of an effective transition from research to sustainable, market ready game-based product, service or business.
First, impact game initiatives need to engage more experienced game producers and executives from the game publishing side of the industry. These are professionals with experience building portfolios of games, conceiving and managing green-light processes, sourcing and doing due diligence on game developers, creating effective stage-based financing and milestone schedules, ensuring effective resources for development teams that run into trouble and thinking through the full lifecycle of a game project from concept, design and development through to marketing, distribution, assessment and optimization.

Creating effective impact friendly game publishing methodologies and businesss models is as much a craft and skill as creating effective impact focused game design. Most impact-focused organizations tend to focus their efforts on finding good game designers and overlook the importance of publishing skills. Sourcing and managing great game designers is necessary, but not sufficient to creating effective impact games that make sustainable impact at scale.

Second, most successful game publishers have a portfolio strategy that effectively balances platforms, genres and risk profiles. A typical portfolio would have a thoughtful mix of new and existing franchises, new and existing technology, platform and genres. Most philanthropic and public interest games are based on one-off grants and do not effectively leverages the benefits that can come from an effective product and portfolio strategy.

Third, effective game publishers build repeatable and scalable models for designing, developing and publishing impact games. Most successful commercial game franchises have been built over many years through numerous iterations. They also benefit from aligned marketing and distribution channels that are also built over many years and can be leveraged across multiple games. It is very difficult for individual projects to build this infrastructure.

To fully realize the great potential of games for learning, health and social impact we need a more integrated approach to research, development and publishing of impact games. We also need to put as much rigor, creativity and innovation into impact-friendly business and publishing models to ensure that projects can make meaningful impact at scale as we put into the underlying research and design.

MacArthur Foundation: The Civic Potential of Video Games

Pew Internet & American Life: Teens, Video Games and Civics

Pew Internet & American Life: Youth are leading the transition to a fully wired and mobile nation

Why Virtual Worlds Can Matter

Engaged Citizenship

The lifeblood of any democracy is an informed and engaged citizenry along with an inclusive, transparent, accountable, and responsive government.  In the 21st century, the ability of the government to have an active, on-going, two-way dialogue with its citizenry is unprecedented—but also extremely challenging in terms of translating this dialogue into effective policy by the appropriate government agencies.  Many of the most pressing economic and national policy challenges involve complex issues that are daunting for the average citizen, who has limited time to engage in public policy issues, to understand them fully.  For our society to navigate these complex decisions and responsibly develop and harness new and rapidly evolving technologies will require an engaged, scientifically literate population.

Games are well suited to make complexity and complex systems accessible and engaging and to motivate learners to persist past challenge and failure.   Whether it is a 7 year-old parsing a Yu-Gi-Oh card or a 25 year-old building a thriving city in SimCity, games invite players into a complex problem space and entice them to accomplish challenges requiring persistence and deep understanding.  Games, especially strategy and role-playing games, often involve thousands of decisions that increasingly cross both virtual and real world interactions through social play.  Well-designed games can make complexity fun, engaging, and relevant. Games are also being created to engage youth in understanding civic issues, our Constitution, and how Congress works. A number of efforts are emerging that seek to gamify social action, with players developing in-game identities and then growing those online identities through the completion of real-world tasks.

Key questions:  How can we use games to help frame and distill complex issues to create a more informed public and engage citizens working together to solve hard problems?  How can we use the massive data they generate as platforms for research in areas like economics, policy making, psychology, the social sciences, and behavioral economics?  Can we use games to model complex policy decisions before implementing them?

Playing for Impact: Ritual, ARGs, and IRL Change

“Reality is broken. Game designers can fix it.”

So says JaneMcGonigal, game designer and researcher, when talking about her quest to use massive multiplayer gaming to solve social problems facing the world today. Her point is provocative and the argument is persuasive. However, it can be contended that the point is slightly different than the basic statement, “Reality is broken.” In that case, one might assume a singular, objective, reality. Instead, perhaps the case is that realities are multiple. Cultural communications and media scholar James Carey says, “Reality is not a given, not humanly independent of language… Rather, reality is brought into existence, is produced, by communication…the construction, apprehension, and utilization of symbolic forms.”[1] This production, according to Carey, is dependent on ritual. That is, ritual is key to how realities are constructed and he points out the importance of understanding this phenomenon in the context of human communication and our communities: “A ritual view of communication is directed not toward the extension of message in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but representation of shared beliefs.” In any case, McGonigal and Carey’s assertions on reality and how games have a positive impact on social change, in real life, can be examined through Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).

ARGs include the use of multiple technologies to augment reality and the real-world as a platform in game play. We already have ritualized the use of the multiple technologies in our real world lives. Additionally, just as real life is, ARGs are interactive and social in nature. Game designs are narrative based and promote players to connect with each other while contributing to building the game’s story during play. It is key to the ARG that players are collaborating as they are problem solving and building their narrative through a participatory culture. The skills needed to play and win these games are the kinds of skills needed to approach problem solving in our world today – McGonigal calls players super-empowered-hopeful-individuals (SEHIs) and she takes them to task in games she designed, like WorldWithoutOil (WWO), Superstruct, and EVOKE. Each of these games constructs an alternative, virtual reality that allows players to propose solutions to real-world problems. In WWO, a game created to imagine the first few weeks of a global oil crisis, players created solutions to living without oil-reliant resources in their daily lives. In order to play the game, participants implemented the solutions they created in their REAL daily lives leading to a positive impact on oil consumption outside of the game reality. For example, players biked to work, or grew their own food, and used a preferred mode of communication (blogs, videos, voicemail, etc.) to report on their activities, communicate with each other, and encourage each other. The epic win of this game is not through beating the last level in an immersive computer environment. Winning WWO happens in a player’s daily life as she is empowered by the knowledge that her action does have a direct impact on the future of our world.

McGonigal says: “Gamers are trained to believe they can win.” When we play, we are practicing for real life. SEHIs, she says, come together with a sense of “urgent optimism” and extreme self-motivation, build trust and cooperation by weaving together social fabric (she adds, “We like people better after we’ve played with them.”), are excited by “blissful opportunity” (that is, the notion we are happier working hard if it is the right kind of work), and are creating “epic meaning” for themselves. Imagine injecting these notions into the existing framework of one’s daily life – As World Without Oil shows, it is possible through the mere playing of the game. Though WWO as a game is over, the record of this game is maintained in an online archive. Lesson plans are provided for teachers to use in the classroom. These plans do not just show students how to play a socially responsible game. Instead the WWO archives seeks to persuade teachers and students to continue to play their own versions of the game, thus preparing another generation of gamers to understand that their own actions have an impact in their daily lives and the lives of others. Though he did not address ARG games specifically, Carey says this is the goal of studying human communications: “to understand the meanings that others have placed on experience, to build up a veridical record of what has been said at other times, in other places, and in other ways; to enlarge the human conversation by comprehending what others are saying.”  WWO does this, and does so with a socially conscious purpose. Or, as quoted on the WWO archive site, “If you want to change the future, play with it first.” (Stefanie Olsen, C|Net)

ARGs like WWO designed are to persuade players to use creative collaboration without a focus negative consequences for failure. In fact, contrary to some existing problem solving systems, for gamers it is through meaningful play and repeated failure, feedback, and behavior modification that winning becomes possible. Again, it is not necessarily that reality is broken. Perhaps, instead of looking at reality as broken, it is our approach that we need to adjust. Using ARGs in this context persuades us to change our routines, to augment our habits within reality, and to play together to positively impact our world.

Resources for Alternate Reality Games 

[1] Communication As Culture: Essays on Media and Society by James Carey (1992)