A Look Inside Serious Games

March 10, 2010 -

Our man Dan Rosenthal is at the Game Developers Conference and filed this report from a lecture he attended last night:

The Serious Games Summit at GDC closed out its first day with a sobering presentation from Allan McCullough and Parry Aftab entitled "Violence Prevention -- Playing A Video Game Can Make A Difference." Sponsored by the Child Safety Research and Innovation Center, the session explained that while games often get criticized as being too violent, the games industry can actually work to lessen the real-world effects of violence and abuse against children through serious games.

"The game industry has been demonized as promoting violence. It's a popular scapegoat. But games are not the problem, they are the solution to the violence against children problems identified here today." said McCullough.

The session focused on two games: Sydney Safe-Seeker and the Incredible Journey Home, which aims to teach children about abduction and predation from strangers; and Alex Wonder in the Case of the Bully in the Machine, which focuses on cyberbullying.  The games themselves feature rich Flash graphics that immediately bring to mind cartoons and seem like they'd fit right into a 6-11 year old audience.

However there is a deceptive amount of depth and research packed into the bubbly graphics.  Each scene features "years of evidence-based research on behavioral change" and the Sydney Safe-Seeker game provides scores and research to parents several common ploys from child predators that their children might be susceptible to, and additionally tracks their progress as they learn safe habits. The game also provides talking points for the parents and guides on how to discuss safety with children.

The story is bolstered by sobering statistics—for instance, when discussing the Alex Wonder game, Aftab and McCullough note that 85% of a group of 40,000 middle schoolers claimed to have been cyberbullied at least once. The attacks are likely to start as early as the 2nd or 3rd grade, and have resulted in over 30 suicides and at least one homicide committed by a 12 year old girl in Japan.

The most fascinating part of the story is McCullough's explanation of why we're only getting this game now. Back in 2001, McCullough was in negotiations with Ronald McDonald Houses for a large contract and massive nationwide distribution of the game in schools.  At a critical presentation to a group of hundreds of subject matter experts from the child-safety industry, McCullough was repeatedly interrupted, causing the experts to walk out. The date was 9/11, the interruptions were notifications of the terrorist attacks, and the experts were members of the FBI, Secret Service, and other law enforcement groups.  After the attacks, funding for the project moved elsewhere and the game had to be shelved.

Sydney Safe-Seeker and Alex Wonder aim to be the first in a line of serious games aimed at violence prevention. Unintentionally, it also has the effect of firing a shot across the bow of the anti-game violence crowd, sending the message "Look how wrong you are about what games can do." For that, we all owe McCullough and Aftab our thanks.


 
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Andrew EisenNow, having said that, what sites are you reading that are claiming that if "you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem" or that gamers are "obligated to stop harassment"? Or was that hyperbole too?09/21/2014 - 1:03am
Andrew EisenFirst of all, ONE person in the Shout box suggested an obligation to call harassers out on their harassing but only after YOU brought it up. Plus, Techno said "when you see it happening." If you don't see it, you're not under any obligation.09/21/2014 - 1:02am
Sleaker@Craig R. - at this point I don't even know what the hashtags are suppsed to be in support of. what does GamerGate actually signify.09/21/2014 - 12:21am
Sleaker@AE - Hyperbole for the first 2, but it seems like some of the comments in the shout are attempting to place blame on fellow gamers because they aren't actively telling people to stop harassing even though they don't necessarily know anyone that has.09/21/2014 - 12:16am
Andrew EisenSleaker - Who the heck are you reading that is claiming "all gamers are bad," we "need to pass laws or judgement on all gamers," that if "you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem," or that gamers are "obligated to stop harassment"?09/20/2014 - 9:44pm
erthwjimhe swatted more than just krebs, I think he swatted 30 people http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/05/teen-arrested-for-30-swattings-bomb-threats/09/20/2014 - 9:31pm
Craig R.Btw, the guy who swatted security expert Brian Krebs? He got picked up recently. It can be done.09/20/2014 - 8:55pm
Craig R.Such things are not done in a vacuum... hence why the 4chan and other logs show what fools you've all been, tricked into doing the trolls' work09/20/2014 - 8:49pm
Sleaker@Technogeek - How do you call someone out that anonymously calls in a SWAT team, or sends threats to people?09/20/2014 - 7:04pm
Technogeek"It also doesn't mean you're obligated to stop harassment from all gamers that are doing so." I'd say you're certainly obligated to call them out when you see it happening.09/20/2014 - 5:17pm
SleakerNow if you disagree with anything in my last 2 posts then we obviously have a difference in world view, and wont come to any sort of agreement. I'm fine with that, maybe some people aren't?09/20/2014 - 5:09pm
SleakerIt also doesn't mean that just because a news outlet says that Gamers are the problem and you self-identify as a Gamer, you're immediately the problem. It also doesn't mean you're obligated to stop harassment from all gamers that are doing so.09/20/2014 - 4:59pm
SleakerJust to re-iterate: People getting harassed is wrong. Just because someone is harassed by so called 'gamers' doesn't mean that all gamers are bad. nor does it mean that you need to pass laws or judgement on all gamers.09/20/2014 - 4:56pm
SleakerAnd furthermore just because someone doesn't 'crusade against the evil' that doesn't make them the problem. You can have discussion with those around you. There's a thing called sphere of influence.09/20/2014 - 4:54pm
Sleaker@Conster - one person getting harassed is a 'problem' only so far as the harassee's are doing it. Just because a select few people choose to act like this doesn't make it widespread. Nor does it immediately make everyone responsible to put an end to it.09/20/2014 - 4:54pm
james_fudgeno worries09/20/2014 - 4:15pm
TechnogeekI misread james' comment as "we can't have a debate without threatening" there at first. Actually wound up posting a shout about death threats and "kill yourself" not technically being the same thing before I realized.09/20/2014 - 3:59pm
james_fudgeDon't hit me *cowers behind Andrew*09/20/2014 - 3:20pm
ConsterYou take that back right now, james, or else. *shakes fist menacingly*09/20/2014 - 3:00pm
james_fudgeOur community is awesome. We can have a debate without threatening to kill each other.09/20/2014 - 2:50pm
 

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