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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IronPatriot@ Ivresse, TotalBiscuit chose to lie about the women Gamergaters were harassing, adding fuel to their harassment, including a lot of lies about Gamergate victims like Sarkeesian. Shame on him and his worshipers.08/03/2015 - 2:55pm
Andrew EisenIanC - I've seen no such announcement. Got a link? But, if that's true, it's a damn shame because I know people on this side of the pond who enjoy the series.08/03/2015 - 2:52pm
IronPatriotZippy, you are right that gamergate is bad, but the “core ideals” were harassment from the start. The “ethics” lie is a thin patina of gold leaf on the steaming turd which is gamergate.08/03/2015 - 2:51pm
IanCYou lot happy that we won't get the new Dead or aLive Xtreme game in the west?08/03/2015 - 2:36pm
NatirEnjoy your description. It is more funny to click the steam link though.. it is SFW.... "Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015: Do You Still Shower With Your Dad?" is a fast paced shower-simulation where you shower with your 8-bit dad. It's good, clean fun!08/03/2015 - 12:28pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://arstechnica.com/gaming/2015/08/the-18-million-dota-2-international-2015-marks-the-end-of-an-era/ a good story about a dota 2 team that formed just for the international. it is basically a all star team of the best US and European players08/03/2015 - 12:27pm
Big PermIt's a link to a game where you're a naked child around a bunch of naked dudes. Indies must be stopped08/03/2015 - 11:17am
Andrew EisenAs always folks, please give some indication of what you're linking to as well as who.08/03/2015 - 11:15am
NatirIf someone linked this, sorry. I kind of laughed and I figured some may get a kick out of this... Really weird and creepy though. http://store.steampowered.com/app/359050/08/03/2015 - 11:12am
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.ign.com/articles/2015/08/03/new-article-about-konami-suggests-grim-situation-at-company well hopefully they will get out of game development after mgs508/03/2015 - 11:05am
IvresseSeriously IronPatriot, you're worse than a Daily Mail reader.08/03/2015 - 10:51am
Ivresse@IronPatriot: Will you stop lumping TotalBiscuit into this whole Gamergate issue, it's lying numpties like you who make up your own bullshit to justify your hatred to begin with that screw the internet up in the first place...08/03/2015 - 10:49am
ZippyDSMleeMost social justice is great but some of it is so stupid it taints the whole thing into triple negatives. A shame most of the gamergate stuff is bad...the core ideals are not bad it just jumped the shark and the n ut cases came out of the wood work..08/03/2015 - 10:07am
ZippyDSMleeJim dives into the red ash controversy , http://www.thejimquisition.com/2015/08/1876/08/03/2015 - 10:03am
IronPatriotSeriously people, do not believe crap spread by those who think "social justice" is an insult or that its a good idea to join a movement created for harassment. Like your gamergate hero TotalBiscuit.08/03/2015 - 9:32am
IvresseSeriously people, do not believe the shit that the internet spreads about anyone, especially with the whole gamergate SJW crap colouring the issue to the point of stupidity08/03/2015 - 9:14am
Ivresse@Big Perm: Only to the morons that inhabit the internet. Also his wife is damn awesome, I bumped into her when I had to catch my train before TB's meet and sign session, she ran to find TB, got him to sign my mousemat, then ran back to give it to me.08/03/2015 - 9:13am
MechaTama31I dunno. I'd rather see new characters than see, for example, someone other than Bill Murray try to be Venkman.08/03/2015 - 9:10am
Big Perm@ Ivresse. Is true that TB eats puppies?08/03/2015 - 9:01am
MattsworknamePS: hudson played winston zedimore08/03/2015 - 7:24am
 

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