It’s not your imagination: in the past few years, the gaming world has seen an uptick in the number of socially responsible games—things like WeTopia (basically Farmville with a charitable component), Half the Sky (a choose-your-own adventure women’s empowerment game), and Foldit (a puzzle game that solves real-world science quandaries). For the best of what’s new, look no further than the nominees for the 2013 Games for Change Awards.
The nominees are separated out by category. In the "Most Innovative" category, Games for Change selected Blindside, a 3-D audio game that explores what it’s like to deal with dangerous situations while blind; Nevermind, a horror game that uses a heart sensor to teach players to stay calm in tense situations; and Jewish Time Jump—New York, an augmented reality game that teaches American and Jewish history.
The games in the "Most Significant Impact" category sound a little more intellectual—the kinds of strategy games that you could get lost in for hours. They include a game about buying and selling data called Data Dealer; Eskom Energy Planner, a game that lets users control a virtual power plant; and The Republia Times, a game that puts players in the editor-in-chief role of a newspaper trying to keep the government looking good.
The "Best Gameplay" nominees include The Republia Times; a game called Quandary that lets players deal with the ethical issues that come along with shaping a society; and Reach for the Sun, which asks players to help a seedling grow strong enough before winter.
Many of these games cost money to play, but a few, like The Republia Times, are free. I spent a good 20 minutes entranced with that game. It’s a simple premise: you’re given eight or so story headlines and asked to place the ones that you think put the government in the best light in a grid that represents the next day’s paper (if only stories wrote themselves like they seem to do in this game). If you succeed in making the government look good, you and your family get to live in luxury accommodations. But if you fail, you die.
It’s not particularly realistic—in the real world, writers would at least have the chance to spin negative stories into pro-government pieces. But does it teach a lesson about the nature of media and propaganda? Sure. And you only need to play for five minutes to learn it.
Check out the rest of the Games for Change nominees here.