It doesn't get much better than this.
The Illinois Soybean Association will unveil a game exhibit featuring Abe Lincoln and, of course, the soybean at its Farm Progress Show in Decatur next month.
The game, Think'n with Lincoln, celebrates the 200th birthday of the 16th president. Here a description from the press release:
One of the chief draws in the Farm Progress Show exhibit is the new "Think'n with Lincoln" game, a customized video game experience designed to entice visitors to answer trivia questions. Although soybean information is emphasized, Abraham Lincoln trivia is also included to tie in with the 200th birthday celebration and other Lincoln materials within the exhibit.
Positioned in one corner of the main tent, "Think'n with Lincoln" will be projected on a large, flat-panel television screen and is designed to allow up to three players to compete at a time. Each trivia question will appear on the screen with multiple-choice and true-false answers as "Abraham Lincoln" instructs participants, moderates the game and hands out prizes. Randy Duncan, an accomplished Abraham Lincoln impersonator, will act as game host and will encourage visitors to see the exhibits on display and play the game.
Can't make it to the farm show? Fear not. When the event is over, the game will remain available online.
It's a sad day when one of the web's most intelligent game-oriented sites rides off into the sunset.
And so it is with Water Cooler Games, operated since 2003 by Georgia Tech prof Ian Bogost and researcher Gonzalo Frasca. Both academics are also accomplished designers of provocative, issue-oriented games.
We note the following in the site's RSS feed this morning:
Water Cooler Games is now closed. Thanks for reading all these years. The site has been archived in full (with comments)... For my take on "videogames with an agenda," you might want to read Persuasive Games. I am now blogging at Bogost.com...
—Ian Bogost, August 2009
Because the issue-oriented focus of Water Cooler Games often intersected with that of GamePolitics, WCG was frequently cited here on GP. We will miss it, but it's good to know that it will live on in an archived version.
UPDATE: Ian Bogost has posted a lengthy commentary on the WCG closure:
From my perspective, the Water Cooler Games project was very much a success. The fact that so many venues now exist for discussing of what we coyly called "videogames with an agenda" speaks at least in part to the influence we exerted.
More so, the site had been immensely useful in helping me conduct research. My 2007 book Persuasive Games drew many examples from titles we covered on Water Cooler Games...
Closing WCG opens up new opportunities for my writing, on this site and elsewhere... The truth is that I've said most of what I want to say about [political games, advertising and games, and other topics covered on WCG]...
GP: We wish Ian continued success and the best of luck going forward...
When we last saw Norquist on the pages of GamePolitics he was speaking out in opposition to video game legislation in Utah. This time around, his game - set in a tattoo parlor - is meant to rally opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. GameCulture explains:
Card Check [is a] a majority sign-up policy that makes it easier for unions to get employer recognition. If at least 50% of employees sign a card authorizing representation, secret ballots can be bypassed. ATR says that "in the game, the player is a tattoo artist who faces several attempts by union organizers to get you to sign the card, including visiting you at home, vandalizing your car, threatening your cat, and even offering you marijuana."
As it turns out, labor leader Eddie Vale of the AFL-CIO took offense not only to the game's portrayal of union organizers as thugs, but to its game play as well:
As anyone who actually grew up playing Atari or Nintendo will know, calling this a video game is as accurate as their lies about the Employee Free Choice Act...
Norquist minion Brian Johnson wasted no time in firing back at Vale:
I'm not sure that a 1930s throwback like the AFL-CIO should be giving advice about what's cool. We're not sure what video games have been cranked out this year by the international brotherhood of video game programmers, but we'd be happy to stack our game up to any union-made product any day.
Prof. Cassandra Newby-Alexander said that the history of the Underground Railroad, a network which helped slaves escape from the South in pre-Civil War days, is not well understood:
The underground Railroad was a much more complex issue than it's been made out. When you push a person to a point where they have nothing to lose, that's when you create a formidable enemy. Ultimately, human beings are going to be free.
When you ask people to describe the Underground Railroad, they think of Harriet Tubman on foot, with a gun. Most slaves didn't escape that way. I don't want to dumb-down the game.
Newby-Alexander is working with a local playwright to create a script for the game, which is expected for PC in 2011.
Yesterday in the Big Apple, socially-aware teens held the first-ever NYC Youth Media & Technology Festival. The event spotlighted the work of teenagers who create video games and other digital media projects in order to advance social causes.
Organizers expected about 100 attendees for the Festival. The gathering was intended to produce a citywide dialogue about the role of new media and technology in teens' lives and how it can be utilized to promotes issues kids care about.
A group of young designers affiliated with the New York Public Library were scheduled to showcase their designs and conceptualizations for serious video games about subjects like celebrity drug use, media consolidation and genocide.
Meanwhile, teens from the Global Kids Virtual Video Project premiered an animated short film about child sex trafficking in the United States. Members of MOUSE discussed their efforts to advance technology in New York City public schools by developing open source labs, advocating for the One Laptop Per Child campaign and other efforts.
The invitation-only event was held at the Parsons The New School for Design.
-Doug Buffone, Entertainment Consumers Association intern
The 5th annual Games For Health Conference formally kicks off tomorrow in Boston.
The conference, which runs through Friday, will feature a "Games Accessibility Day" today, devoted to examing way to make games playable by those with physical and cognitive disabilities.
The main conference agenda which begins on Thursday will feature more than 40 sessions:
Topics include exergaming, physical therapy, disease management, health behavior change, bio-feedback, epidemiology, training, cognitive exercise, nutrition and health education.
Somewhat lost in the pre-E3 buzz is the 6th Annual Games For Change Festival, currently underway in New York City.
The show has a terrific lineup of speakers, including Ian Bogost, Henry Jenkins, Clive Thompson, Lucy Bradshaw, N'Gai Croal, and James Paul Gee.
For updated G4C Festival news, check out the official Games For Change Twitter feed.
The Korean government will invest 80 billion won (US$63.52 million) to support the country's growing serious games business, reports Korea IT Times.
If successful, Korea will expand its serious games market by a factor of six by 2012. Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Yu In-chon commented:
The functional game market is at an early stage, but the market is an emerging blue ocean. The government is going to give support to prompt private investment in that field.
Mervyn Levin of the U.K.'s Serious Games Institute reports on a 2008 visit to Seoul where he observed some of the Korean serious game projects in development:
An interesting Korean Serious Games project was presented by T3 Entertainment on anti-bullying, a subject of obvious relevance to the UK. The title was "Online 'Star Stone' Development for Improvement of Personal Relations".
South Korean University research was also presented demonstrating evidence of the relationship between on-line games and the development of leadership skills in the workplace...
With all of the hype about Swine Flu lately, Ian Bogost points out that his Persuasive Games studio partnered with Traffic Games of Scotland a few months back to create Killer Flu.
The game, built at the request of the UK Clinical Virology Network, teaches players lessons about how seasonal and pandemic influenza spread:
While our game focuses on an avian flu pandemic, the same principles apply to the present situation. The players of the game will find it more difficult than they suspect to create the pandemic the news would have us believe is imminent...
British political figure Lord Puttnam wants people to know about global warming, and he wants video games to help teach them.
As reported by Edge Online, Puttnam, who is also a film producer, issued a press release promoting the nexus of games and climate change education:
Serious games based upon real-life geography should be vital tools in our fight against climate change. Educating people about the impact of prolonged changes to our climate in an accessible way is the best catalyst for action I know.
Lord Puttnam previously chaired the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill and is the founding Chair of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.
He also delivered the closing keynote at last September's Handheld Learning 2008 conference in London.
As we saw in 2008 with Breakthrough's immigration rights-themed I.C.E.D!, non-profits are increasingly turning to game tech to reach a wider - and younger - audience.
The Games for Change Toolkit is primarily a Flash-based presentation containing video, reference material, and links to demonstration games that cover various aspects of game design, from the initial concept to production and distribution. While an actual [software development kit] may not be involved, the toolkit introduces nonprofit organizations to both the broad potential and finer details of bringing an issue-conscious game into reality...
The Toolkit covers seven primary topics and introduces each with a video snippet of their relative presenter's speech: Urge, Concept, Design, Production, Distribution, Evaluation, and Case Study...
Raid Gaza! is hosted at Newgrounds and has an RTS-like interface in which the player, acting as the Israeli side, builds structures and uses them to create military units which are then launched against the Palestinians.
Of the game, Bogost writes:
The game argues against the justification of Israeli attacks on Gaza, representing them as unprovoked and characterizing Israel's response as overt aggression. The game's goal is to kill as many Palestinians as possible in a three minute session...
The game is headstrong, suffering somewhat from its one-sided treatment of the issue at hand. But as an editorial, it is a fairly effective one both as opinion text and as game... It's release on user-contributed animation and games portal Newgrounds came on 30 December 2008, only three days after the Israeli Defense Forces launched airstrikes...
Raid Gaza! was probably not created by a journalist nor a professional game developer (it was submitted to Newgrounds eponymously). Still, the piece was timely, coherent, and exerted commentary that is appreciable, even if it is not profound...
It's always great to see game tech being to put to use for purposes larger than mere entertainment.
Variety's Cut Scene blog reports that Warner Bros. Interactive will launch a free online game in Kenya designed to teach players about the risks of AIDS as well as how to prevent the spread of the disease.
The five-player game is called Pamoja Mtaani, which translates to Together in the Hood. It will target youth centers in Nairobi and features tunes from local hip-hop musicians. Pamoja Mtaani was developed by North Carolina-based Virtual Heroes, creators of America's Army.
Here's how Warner Bros. describes the game:
[Pamoja Mtaani] follows five strangers who are brought together through unforeseen circumstances, losing what is most precious to each of them. Working their way through various East African neighborhoods, players must recover the stolen items and help an injured woman on their quest. Along the way, they will experience barriers and facilitators to behavior change through a variety of missions and mini-games.
Pamoja Mtaani is an outgrowth of The Partnership For an HIV-free Generation.
Virtual Peace, a simulation project underway at Duke University, uses game technology to train users in diplomacy and crisis response skills.
Prof. Tim Lenoir is leading the interdisciplinary project, which, ironically, has received assistance from Virtual Heroes, the North Carolina developer best known for its work on the America's Army recruiting game. Lenoir commented:
We’re trying to train people how to collaborate in groups -- particularly in internationally sensitive situations. The goal is to create an environment where people can practice their negotiation skills -- and it’s a whole lot better use of the gaming engine than shooting ’em up.
Players in the game assume the roles of various crisis response organizations such as Oxfam, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization.
The British Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson (left), endorsed the work of the Serious Games Institute during a visit last week to SGI, which is located at England's Coventry University.
A University press release reports:
During his visit Lord Drayson... learnt about the use of virtual worlds and simulation games to train doctors and clinicians in a variety of applications including triage and serious injury trauma.
Drayson, who resigned from a previous cabinet post to pursue an auto racing career, commented:
The Serious Games Institute is leading the way in this exciting emerging technology. The projects here are truly inspirational and crucially, underpinned by excellent research. They will have real impact in our everyday lives over the next few years.
This work goes to show that science and technology is all around us. By studying science subjects at school young people could have access to all sorts of cool and interesting jobs. There are exciting new businesses in this field. Here is a sector that is growing fast despite the downturn and offers great job opportunities for physics and maths graduates.
Video games [serve] as a centrifying values issue, making it very cheap [for politicians] to decry video games. Ian mentions the ECA (Entertainment Consumers Association), and the idea of a union of video game players, or a common identity among gamers, “weirds” him out.
Gamer demographics — if there are political games, whom will they reach?: There’s a lot of bad data, but… see the Entertainment Software Association. The better question is to break them down by style/type. Ian’s own games — TSA game since 2006 has approached 50M plays. (< $10K to build).
An Obama game could really sell. Who wouldn’t buy an Obama game? Well...
So what about an abortion game that attempts to help each side understand the perspective of the other side of the debate? ...
Nicco mentions that the [Howard] Dean  campaign’s game did inspire people to donate, get involved. Ian wonders if this idea will “peak” (novelty factor).
The problem is that the vast majority of these [political] games are meaningless tripe. See Ian’s discussion of Pork Invaders, in the Gamasutra article, and also the contrast with Tax Invaders as a rhetorical device.
FULL DISCLOSURE DEPT: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics.
The United Nations Population Fund has awarded Champlain College's Emergent Media Center a $600,000 grant to develop an interactive game aimed at preventing violence against women in developing nations. The target audience for the game will be young boys and the game will be rolled out in South Africa initially.
Georgia Tech Prof. Ian Bogost has launched a new election-oriented game.
My studio Persuasive Games developed a new game that CNN International has just published. Campaign Rush is a light-hearted game on the theme of politics and the current election. It's a casual click-management game in a campaign office, in which the player helps volunteers respond to the barrage of incoming phone calls, emails, letters, and the like. In addition, you can create an account and choose your party to compete for the best score.
However, just another meme vector dings Campaign Rush in a review:
Well, I’m a bit disappointed... The campaign offices must indeed be caffeine-fueled storms of ringing phones, rushing campaign workers and clattering keyboards. The game conveys something of that atmosphere.
But there’s not much content there - the gameplay isn’t really about the election. It’s a point-and-click game of whack-a-mole dressed up with candidate posters on the virtual walls.
Bogost can do better. Take Back Illinois [2004 election cycle] was a great way to get introduced to the issues. This is a little more towards Presidential Paintball.
Later this month, Copenhagen-based Serious Games Interactive will release Global Conflicts: Latin America.
The game, intended for students 13-19 years old, will be published in seven languages and is designed to teach students about political and human rights struggles in Latin America. From an SGI press release:
Many Latin American countries have dark histories of genocide, widespread corruption; and systematic exploitation of the indigenous population. The game lets you explore how these historical realities still cast long shadows on the everyday life of people in the region today.
In the game, students are challenged to assume the role of investigative reporters:
You arrive in Mexico at the US border with a bag full of journalistic ambitions. Latin America is one of the most turbulent, violent and poverty-stricken places on the planet. Yet it is only when Western interests in the region are threatened that we hear anything about the nations that struggle with paramilitary rule, extreme poverty and exploitation of the population.
In a region where politicians and police are feared rather than respected, people try desperately to grab a piece of the land and call it their own. All too often, however, it ends badly. Can you make a difference by writing investigative stories?
Global Conflicts: Latin America will be released for PC and Mac.
Last October GamePolitics reported on Randy Pausch, the Carnegie-Mellon University professor whose "last lecture" touched millions of people and gained international fame.
Pausch, suffering from pancreatic cancer, died on Friday at the age of 47. He told USA Today earlier this year that his last lecture was really for his kids
I knew what I was doing that day," he wrote in the introduction of his best-selling book, also titled The Last Lecture. "Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children."
The announcement came at the Louvre in Paris.
Each of the entries was created using Microsoft's XNA Game Studio software. The winners are:
Suzanne Seggerman, President and Co-founder of Games for Change, commented:
What’s most exciting about this game contest is that not only are the brightest young people from around the world engaged in creating these new games, they are also laying the foundation for a new genre – socially-responsible video games. And this is where it all begins.
Games for Change bills itself as "the primary non-profit behind the new movement using video games to promote social change." The organization teamed up with Microsoft to offer the game design contest based on environmental themes.
When you read that someone is planning a game based on Virginia Tech, you can't help but cringe.
But game designer - and Virginia Tech alum - Manveer Heir seems committed to using the video game medium to tastefully and respectfully tell the tale of the aftermath of the April, 2007 rampage.
Heir, whose day job involves game developments for Raven Software, writes:
To make a video game based around these events is difficult and delicate... Bereavement in Blacksburg centers around the concept of loss and grief, and how people cope with it. The game takes place on April 17th, 2007, the day after the shootings...
You can use the phone to call your girlfriend... You can use your computer and see e-mails from the administration, as well as condolences from friends. You can watch TV or listen to music to escape... You can turn to bottles of alcohol to drown your sorrows. Or you can just leave the room and venture to other parts of campus and find other interactions. The choices are yours and they affect the way your character progresses through the game.
Internally, the game keeps a “grief score”. You start at zero, and positive influencing interactions will increase this score and negative influencing actions will decrease it... Ultimately, there should be multiple paths to end the game, just as there are in life. One can move through all the stages of grief, or become stuck... In the end, the game is one of choices and how these choices ultimately affect how we deal with grief.
On the other hand, not everyone appreciates what Heir is trying to do. At College On The Record, a writer who goes by "Technical Brilliance" harshly criticizes the project, referring to Heir as a "poor, misguided fool":
What are you thinking, man? I hope this design document stays in production limbo. A lot of my friends were personally affected by this atrocity, and I don't think they'd appreciate a game mocking their grief.
GP: Readers, what do you think?
Vertical Wire reports that the "heated" match was played on authentic, 1960's-era equipment. After dispatching the mayor 2-nil, Baer gave the keynote address to open the conference, which was designed to promote the Netherlands as a European gaming hub.
Among those presenting at NLGD are serious games guru Ben Sawyer and Spore design team member Chaim Gingold.
UPDATE: A reader, Rob F, writes in to advise that we've got an error in this story regarding the origins of Pong:
[I] just wanted to point out that Ralph Baer did not create Pong, Nolan Bushnell/Al Alcorn did. Also, Pong was released in the 70s, so I'm unsure what 60s era equipment they were playing on, maybe Baer's Brown Box? Think was also from the 70s, maybe late 60s. Bushnell viewed Baer's Table Tennis on the Odyssey (the first home console) and basically ripped Baer off. I'm not a big fan of wikipedia, but from what I scanned they got it right.
Ralph wrote a book a couple years ago, it's really good. You can view a sample here.
The use of game tech to explore public policy alternatives is touted by futurist Jamais Cascio, writing for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:
The big advantage of games as a foresight device is the capacity to fail in interesting ways: you can try out different, even bizarre, strategies for success, and do so without worry of harming yourself or others. It’s a form of rehearsal, a way to understand the ways in which the present may be manipulated to create a desirable tomorrow.
Cascio makes his case by detailing a trio of policy-oriented simulations. He leads off with Oil ShockWave, a petro-crisis simulation developed at Harvard. While previous editions were studied at the 2006 World Economic Forum and at the 2007 Aspen Strategy Group conference, a new version is intended for college classroom use. From the game's Harvard website:
Students play the roles of U.S. Cabinet members developing a policy response to a potentially devastating crisis that affects global oil supplies. Situations are presented primarily through pre-produced newscasts, video briefings and insert cards handed to the students during discussion. The exercise vividly illustrates the links between oil, the economy, and national security.
The box set... contains maps, multimedia components, simulated newscasts, a range of background materials, and an instructor's manual. To ensure that the latest information is always available to you, the box set will be fully web-supported...
GP: I must concur with Cascio's lament that the game is not generally available. It sounds fascinating.
Cascio also looks at Budget Hero, a sim sponsored by American Public Media's Marketplace program:
Unlike some budget sims that give you nearly line-item control over what’s in and what’s out, Budget Hero limits your options to options that sound like policy proposals—Cap & Limit Greenhouse Gases, Link Alternative Minimum Tax to Inflation, and so forth. You also start with three budget priority badges, reflecting the positions you take as a leader.
Cascio is less impressed with Immune Attack, a health-themed game designed for high school classrooms.
Every gamer's favorite academic, MIT Professor Henry Jenkins, will be among the presenters at the 5th Annual Games for Change Festival which takes place June 2-4 in New York.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will deliver the festival's closing keynote. Other speakers include Ben Sawyer of the Serious Games Initiative, Dr. James Paul Gee of Arizona State University, Prof. Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech and Heather Chaplin, co-author of Smartbomb.
From the GFC press release:
The only festival... will explore real-world impact, the latest games and funding strategies... Expert practitioners -- academics, activists, non-profits, funders -- will be called in to examine the impact of current games, evaluations planned and the ongoing work to build the field.
You will have a chance to see a variety of new games in development first-hand, and at the Games Expo sponsored by Microsoft, festival-goers can play the latest state-of-the-art games.
A NASA researcher speaking at a University of Manitoba workshop discussed using video games as an educational tool and disputed supposed links between games and criminal behavior.
As reported by the Truro Daily News, NASA's Daniel Laughlin said:
Since 1993, violent crime in Canada and the U.S. has declined by 50 per cent and during that time the video gaming industry has exploded. If video games were really linked to crime, then we wouldn’t have seen that decline in violence.
Laughlin is the learning technologies project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Baltimore. The space agency is working on an MMO to sharpen math and science skills among high school and college students:
I’d love to see a space-based game where the players are placed in real careers — astrophysicists, aerospace engineer. It would be a game where you need the expertise of real science to succeed... It’s got to be fun, first. Without the fun, no one will want to play it and it won’t be successful. But it has to use real science.
A freelance game artist and programmer has designed a video game which explores concerns over the excessive use of force by police.
Jason Rohrer writes in The Escapist that he was moved to create Police Brutality after viewing the famous Don't taze me, bro! incident in which a student was tasered by police while Sen. John Kerry gave a speech at the University of Florida.
Of his game design, Rohrer writes:
The video reminded me of how scary police can be... I'm not suggesting that the UF students should have physically attacked the police. ...Perhaps they should have done some quick, ad hoc organizing. Perhaps they should have collectively stood up to the police in some kind of non-violent, legal way.
Even if the students could organize on the spot, I wasn't sure what the most effective strategy would be. I designed a game to explore the possibilities. Police Brutality is a game about fear, collective motivation, ad hoc organizing, self-sacrifice, and non-violence...
A senior at California's Chico State University added a political flavor to three popular Nintendo classics for a recent art exhibit called "Eeprompaganda." The title is a mashup of EEPROM and propaganda.
As reported by student newspaper The Orion, Ryan Fitzpatick showed off mods of Super Mario Bros, Millipede and Dr. Mario. From the report:
Fitzpatrick reprogrammed the beloved "Super Mario Brothers" and turned it into "Super Democracy Brothers: The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism." Instead of Mario and Luigi... players were able to choose from President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney... The two men run around the desert, encounter men in turbans and hop over oil bins with Exxon Mobil labels...
Fitzpatrick likewise transformed Dr. Mario into Doctor Democrat:
The words "Hillary Care" stretched across the top of the screen and players became Dr. Hillary Clinton. The object of the game was to arrange pills into a medicine container, similarly to "Tetris."
Millipede was modded into what sounds like a potentially controversial take on the immigration debate, Minuteman Civil Defense Headquarters Presents: Border Stampede: The student newspaper, however, notes that the mod was presented in the vein of political commentary rather than political advocacy:
Fitzpatrick was afraid people would miss the comical aspect of the exhibit and find the games offensive... In the statement, he wrote about his curiosity with American culture symbols and the influence they have on thinking.
It took Fitzpatrick a year to create the classic Nintendo mods.
The conference will explore the intersection of next-generation game technologies and health issues... attendees will participate in over 60 sessions provided by an international array of 75 speakers, cutting across a wide range of activities in health and health care.
Topics include exergaming, physical therapy, disease management, health behavior change, biofeedback, epidemiology, training, cognitive exercise, nutrition and health education.
...produced by the Serious Games Initiative, a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars effort that applies cutting-edge games and game technologies to a range of public and private policy, leadership and management issues...