Games can raise awareness of social, environmental or medical issues. They do this by introducing the issue in a playful context. When playing a game, a person voluntarily tackles obstacles in order to progress through the game. The idea of serious games is to use obstacles to raise awareness of the cause. By the time an individual has reached 21 years old, it is estimated they will have spent 10,000 hours gaming. Why not use some of that time to raise awareness for causes?
I decided to have a go at playing one of these games to see if this concept worked. My original choice was Darfur is Dying, which aims to give the user experience of existing in a Sudanese refugee camp I decided against it when my second character was captured, after running round aimlessly for a few seconds. It’s safe to say I’m not a gamer.
Not to be defeated I tried Parable of the Polygons. This consisted of rearranging squares and triangles until they were happy with their neighbours. There were different scenarios in which the polygons desired varying levels of segregation and mixing.
It was a simple but effective concept, illustrating racial bias in our society. Whilst the shapes denied they were shapist, they were only happy when their neighbourhood had the shape mix they desired.
I have always lived in multi-cultural neighbourhoods and never thought anything of it, but looking back there have been definite enclaves. In Manchester, there was the afro-Caribbean suburb, with the Indian suburb next to it and the Jewish area, the other side of the city. It all added to the rich culture of the city, but I can understand people wanting to live near people of the same culture, without any racism being involved.
I think it is a good game to raise the awareness of our biases and become more understanding of why people of the same culture often prefer to live near to those of the same culture. It also illustrated the concept of multi-cultural neighbourhoods being desirable by gradually introducing the shapes to other shapes and hopefully reducing their biases. However, it was a simple game which presented few challenges.
Serious games are a good idea for raising awareness, whilst playing. I particularly feel that games aimed at children suffering from life threatening or chronic illnesses are a great idea, by empowering them and educating them. However, for the serious gamer, games need to offer more challenges than Parable of the Polygons, although this did offer a good introduction into the concept of learning whilst playing and may encouraged further exploration of serious games.
Hart, V. Case, N. (n.d.) Parable of the Polygons. Taken 11/05/16 from http://ncase.me/polygons/