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A tale of two games

I was jazzed with the portion of this week’s module that said we should play two games as part of our coursework. No problem. I’m not the biggest gamer I know, but I spend a good bit of time playing video games.

The tricky part of the assignment became finding two games I hadn’t played before. So, while I’m normally a fan of casual games and first-person-shooters, I tried to broaden my scope a little.

Club Penguin

This may not be the textbook definition of a serious game, but it does incorporate learning along with the fun.

Before a player can even enter the game, they must agree to four rules: Respect other penguins (no swearing, bullying or mean behavior); No inappropriate talk (references to drugs, sex or racial topics); No cheating (by using third-party programs); and Never reveal personal information.

But once the rules are established an you move into the game, it’s pretty clear why this is so popular. You play as — what else? — a penguin and are free to wander around lots of interesting places (I explored a lighthouse that had a kind of nightclub in the base and a ski resort). There are lots and lots of mini games where players can compete for prizes (coins that allow them to buy various things). I raced other penguins down a snowy slope in an inner tube, “kicked” a soccer ball around a field and used a jetpack from the top of the lighthouse to gather coins floating in the air.

penguin

Even in Club Penguin, there’s an opportunity to read the newspaper: The Club Penguin Times. This one is a great way for players to find out what’s going on in the penguin world. And, if I’m not mistaken, the column “Ask Aunt Arctic” has some kid-friendly references to global warning. (Wonder if there will be a rebuttal column next week.)

Like some other online game models, Club Penguin is free to play, but there’s also a premium membership that allows players to use real money to buy things. Disney bought the game for $350 million in 2007 and I’m sure it’s a license to print money. If I recall from listening to Chris Anderson’s “Free: The Future of a Radial Price,” most of the players only play the free version of the game, but there are plenty that pay.

Darfur is Dying

Here’s a real change of pace. This was a “viral video game” designed to educate players about the plight of refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The first assignment was “forage for water” and I had to pick one of eight characters for this job. When I picked the adult male, Rahman, age 30, I was told:

“It’s very uncommon for an adult male to forage for water because he is likely to be killed by the Janjaweed militia. Choose another camp member to forage for water.”

That was sobering.

I picked 12-year-old Jaja instead, only to find out on the next screen that I was going to send him out where he would risk being attacked and possibly killed. “But you must do it in order to provide water for your community,” the game said. Great.

Jaja didn’t last long outside the camp, so I had to pick another character. This time it was 13-year-old Poni’s turn. I tried to zig-zag my way to the well without being caught by roving militia members patrolling the area, but I couldn’t complete the mission.

darfur

Instead of sacrificing another child to my poor skills, I went back to camp. I wandered around there for a bit, watching the “Threat Meter” continue to rise towards another attack by the Janjaweed militia. When that happened, I was told that they had taken the rest of the water and food. I was able to keep the camp safe for just one day — which, sorry to say, qualified me for the leaderboard.

Here was the message there:

“… (T)he people of Darfur are experiencing this crisis day in and day out. This game was meant — however temporarily — to put you in the shoes of the 2.5 million refugees from Darfur, now living in camps in Sudan and Chad. Send this game to your friends to spread the word about the crisis in Sudan.”

There’s also a page that’s designed to help the player take real-world action. Among it’s choices are sending a message to the president, asking your representative to support the people of Darur and “start a divestment movement on your campus,” as well as a list of other ways to get involved.

The prospects of winning this game seemed so bleak, I didn’t want to try it again.

Obviously, these two games are aimed at very different audiences and use very different tactics to achieve success. Even for an adult, Club Penguin is fun, while passing on some social skills. Darfur is Dying makes its point at every turn and guides players toward action.

Category: Weekly Readings

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One Response

  1. [...] read my classmate Chuck’s blog about the two games he chose ¬†for this module and I was shocked to learn that there is a game entitled “Darfur is [...]