Making Smarter Games: The Secret To Truly Mainstream Gaming?

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Making Smarter Games: The Secret To Truly Mainstream Gaming?

Are games too much like porn? That's a strange question; leave aside the occasional “hot coffee” incident and games really aren't much like porn at all. There's little sex, no nudity to speak of, and content is so carefully regulated that a game with the “Adults Only” ranking is almost never actually seen. But that's the question that EA's founder Trip Hawkins was asking, and may well have a way around with a new project.

Said project is called “If You Can,” and it looks to make gaming more accessible to users by taking a lot of that social stigma off it and making the entire concept a lot more useful, as well as fun. Gaming in its current state is commonly regarded as a useless activity, an activity that, perhaps worse, takes the focus away from education in favor of the games. But with If You Can—makers of a game called “If”--the idea of gaming as useless activity gets challenged and collapses. In If, kids—the game has a cartoonish overall look and feel to it—get access to emotional intelligence building tools by placing players in simulated situations in which such intelligence is called for. Players are exposed to practical concepts like empathy, emotions, and even how to recognize what others are feeling and interact with those people accordingly.

It's not the first time that games have been put forth as a learning tool. Many games have been established dealing with everything from geography and anatomy to business and politics. For a while, I spent more than a little time on a browser-based game called “NationStates,” based on the Max Barry novel “Jennifer Government.” In said game, users made decisions for a fictional country and reaped the rewards accordingly in terms of annual GDP, population growth and the like. Making decisions like that had clear—if not always logical—consequences for the country as a whole, and provided a bit of education on what it's really like to run a nation, sticking to some of the minutiae over the macro-issues that so often crop up like war and viral outbreak.

Indeed, it's something of a clever concept: make games clearly more educational, while at the same time accessible to the players. Sure, we've got fun games. We've got games that aren't so fun, either. But games that are valuable learning tools would really broaden the platform and make the gamer less a weird social outcast and more a person looking to improve him- or herself and have fun besides. There's always been this value in games. Role playing games offer a way to solve puzzles and stick with complex threads from beginning to end, just as well as any book does. Even shooter games can foster a sense of teamwork and camaraderie—just look at the old paintball and laser tag excursions of the eighties and nineties—that's all too valuable in many sectors today. The rise of e-sports and professional gaming has taken these games from time-waster to business opportunity, and now, what's left? Education.

If we can make games a viable part of lives again, we may well reach the point where gaming is a viable part of society as opposed to an outsider's hobby. Games like If may well lead the way, and there's certainly plenty of room in this sector for more developers to step in.
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