Serious Games: Designing with Issues in Mind

The Game Developer's Conference opened with the promise of wild new game ideas.

They delivered.

Ian Bogost, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech and Founding Partner of Persuasive Games, unveiled an in-development game about abortion during the Serious Games panel discussion. He developed the idea with the founder of Georgia Tech's Experimental Game Lab, Michael Mateas. The idea is to take on the most complicated, difficult problem in contemporary America. The idea they decided on was abortion.

On Monday, rough sketches of how the game would work were unveiled. It consisted of several mini-games designed to give the player a chance to consider issues related to the abortion debate from several different perspectives. Examples included a teen-motherhood game that charges the player with balancing the mother's reputation with her friends, the baby's health, and future earning power.

What makes the game innovative isn't the subject matter, but rather the supporting technology. If the player were to demonstrate a tendency towards being pro-choice, the game would skew toward emphasizing the virtues of personal responsibility and adoption, and vice versa. The idea is not to support one side of the abortion debate over the other but instead to foster a healthy approach to both sides of the debate, regardless of opinion.

A fascinating concept, but difficult in execution. It's hard to make a game that doesn't emphasize one side of the argument over the other based on the programmers biases, and I'm not just talking about abortion. Bogost said that a working demo may be ready in the fall. I don't evny his position when both the pro-life and pro-choice camps start protesting him and the game, especially if it does exactly what it's designed to: put you in the perspective of the opposite of whatever you believe. This won't go over well with either side.

I personally hope that the game works out. If it does, it will gateway several other new learning and knowledge centered games that the industry, as well as our wired youth, will need.

Persuasive Games publishes training games for schools and companies such as Cold Stone Creamery and Chysler.