A Look Inside Serious Games

March 10, 2010 -

Our man Dan Rosenthal is at the Game Developers Conference and filed this report from a lecture he attended last night:

The Serious Games Summit at GDC closed out its first day with a sobering presentation from Allan McCullough and Parry Aftab entitled "Violence Prevention -- Playing A Video Game Can Make A Difference." Sponsored by the Child Safety Research and Innovation Center, the session explained that while games often get criticized as being too violent, the games industry can actually work to lessen the real-world effects of violence and abuse against children through serious games.

"The game industry has been demonized as promoting violence. It's a popular scapegoat. But games are not the problem, they are the solution to the violence against children problems identified here today." said McCullough.

The session focused on two games: Sydney Safe-Seeker and the Incredible Journey Home, which aims to teach children about abduction and predation from strangers; and Alex Wonder in the Case of the Bully in the Machine, which focuses on cyberbullying.  The games themselves feature rich Flash graphics that immediately bring to mind cartoons and seem like they'd fit right into a 6-11 year old audience.

However there is a deceptive amount of depth and research packed into the bubbly graphics.  Each scene features "years of evidence-based research on behavioral change" and the Sydney Safe-Seeker game provides scores and research to parents several common ploys from child predators that their children might be susceptible to, and additionally tracks their progress as they learn safe habits. The game also provides talking points for the parents and guides on how to discuss safety with children.

The story is bolstered by sobering statistics—for instance, when discussing the Alex Wonder game, Aftab and McCullough note that 85% of a group of 40,000 middle schoolers claimed to have been cyberbullied at least once. The attacks are likely to start as early as the 2nd or 3rd grade, and have resulted in over 30 suicides and at least one homicide committed by a 12 year old girl in Japan.

The most fascinating part of the story is McCullough's explanation of why we're only getting this game now. Back in 2001, McCullough was in negotiations with Ronald McDonald Houses for a large contract and massive nationwide distribution of the game in schools.  At a critical presentation to a group of hundreds of subject matter experts from the child-safety industry, McCullough was repeatedly interrupted, causing the experts to walk out. The date was 9/11, the interruptions were notifications of the terrorist attacks, and the experts were members of the FBI, Secret Service, and other law enforcement groups.  After the attacks, funding for the project moved elsewhere and the game had to be shelved.

Sydney Safe-Seeker and Alex Wonder aim to be the first in a line of serious games aimed at violence prevention. Unintentionally, it also has the effect of firing a shot across the bow of the anti-game violence crowd, sending the message "Look how wrong you are about what games can do." For that, we all owe McCullough and Aftab our thanks.


 
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MaskedPixelantehttp://www.joystiq.com/2014/07/28/gaymerx-in-dire-straits-after-nis-america-allegedly-backs-out-of/ NISA backs out of GaymerX support, but it seems like the only people crying foul are GaymerX.07/29/2014 - 6:30am
Papa MidnightIt's not bad so far, but I am honestly not sure what to make of it (or where it's going for that matter)07/28/2014 - 9:44pm
Matthew Wilsonis it any good?07/28/2014 - 9:36pm
Papa Midnight"Love Child" on HBO -- anyone else watching this?07/28/2014 - 9:27pm
MaskedPixelanteNah, I'm fine purple monkey dishwasher.07/28/2014 - 4:05pm
Sleaker@MP - I hope you didn't suffer a loss of your mental faculties attempting that.07/28/2014 - 3:48pm
MaskedPixelanteOK, so my brief research looking at GameFAQs forums (protip, don't do that if you wish to keep your sanity intact.), the 3DS doesn't have the power to run anything more powerful than the NES/GBC/GG AND run the 3DS system in the background.07/28/2014 - 11:01am
ZenMatthew, the 3DS already has GBA games in the form of the ambassador tittles. And I an just as curious about them not releasing them on there like they did the NES ones. I do like them on the Wii U as well, but seems weird. And where are the N64 games?07/28/2014 - 10:40am
james_fudgeNo. They already cut the price. Unless they release a new version that has a higher price point.07/28/2014 - 10:19am
E. Zachary KnightMatthew, It most likely is. The question is whether Nintendo wants to do it.07/28/2014 - 10:12am
Matthew WilsonI am sure the 3ds im more then powerful enough to emulate a GBA game.07/28/2014 - 9:54am
Sleaker@IanC - while the processor is effectively the same or very similar, the issue is how they setup the peripheral hardware. It would probably require creating some kind of emulation for the 3DS to handle interfacing with the audio and input methods for GBA07/28/2014 - 9:30am
Sleaker@EZK - hmmm, that makes sense. I could have sworn I had played GB/GBC games on it too though (emud of course)07/28/2014 - 9:23am
E. Zachary KnightSleaker, the DS has a built in GBA chipset in the system. That is why it played GBA games. The GBA had a seperate chipset for GB and GBColor games. The DS did not have that GB/GBC chipset and that is why the DS could not play GB and GBC games.07/28/2014 - 7:25am
IanCI dont think Nintendo ever gave reason why GBA games a reason why GBA games aren't on the 3DS eshop. The 3DS uses chips that are backwards compatable with the GBA ob GBA processor, after all.07/28/2014 - 6:46am
Sleakerhmmm that's odd I could play GBA games natively in my original DS.07/28/2014 - 1:39am
Matthew Wilsonbasically "we do not want to put these games on a system more then 10 people own" just joking07/27/2014 - 8:13pm
MaskedPixelanteSomething, something, the 3DS can't properly emulate GBA games and it was a massive struggle to get the ambassador games running properly.07/27/2014 - 8:06pm
Andrew EisenIdeally, you'd be able to play such games on either platform but until that time, I think Nintendo's using the exclusivity in an attempt to further drive Wii U sales.07/27/2014 - 7:21pm
Matthew WilsonI am kind of surprised games like battle network are not out on the 3ds.07/27/2014 - 7:01pm
 

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