If Serious Games were to take the form of an anthropomorphic animal from an 80s before-church-on-Sunday cartoon, they would be Willy Fogg from Around the World with Willy Fogg. Before I sat down, cross legged, uncomfortably close to the electric heater, with the bowl of Weetabix Mum had conjured, I would press the sticky button for Fogg and contemplate his mission – to complete a full circumnavigation of the world in 80 days, with recourse only to Victorian-era technology, while a misguided policeman/bear blundered after him. Serious Games‘ mission is almost identical.
Serious Games‘ intent with Global Conflicts: Latin America is to succeed both as a game and as an educational aid- surely a task that only a lion in a cravatte would contemplate – it’s notoriously difficult to achieve just one of these goals. Any effort to put a smile on the face and a thought in the head of today’s yoof should be applauded in a manner befitting the sending-off ceremony for a certainly-doomed crew bound for a land of poorly-uniformed savages. The player is cast as an investigative reporter tasked with getting to grips with the prevalent issues in various communities in Latin America. This is done through speaking to the locals by clicking conversation options at the bottom of the screen, and hoping they’ll divulge some tasty titbits.
GC: Latin America‘s technology, though certainly an improvement over GC:Palestine (and not quite Victorian), befits a galley slave’s oar – it’s rough around the edges.
Muzzling aside the technology for a moment is that bastarding bear, who it turns out is manifested by me, for I didn’t particularly enjoy GC:Latin America. As an officer of the law, and a hulking great git, I’m going to put both the ‘game’ and ‘education’ sections of GC:Latin America in solitary confinement and interrogate them both in an attempt to identify where responsibility lies for the evidenced failings.
Now follows the transcript of said interrogations:
21:42: Officer Grumbold: [Setting picnic box down on table] Well, well, well, what do we have ‘ere then?
21:42: Latin America’s Game: Gl..Global Conflict: Latin America, sir.
21:42: OG: Ham sarnies.
21:42 until 21:45: Officer Grumbold consumes contents of hamper.
21:45: OG: Now, son, you’ve been a very bad game. A delicious witness provided testimony to support alligations that you have committed three crimes. The first, that you provide very little feedback to your players as to whether they’re making any progress, leaving dialogue – which comprises the great majority of your substance – a rather hit-and-miss affair. What say you?
21:47:Game: I do provide feedback! The top-left of my UI displays how many important statements and compelling arguments the player has collected from the people they’ve interviewed. I think this adequately covers my responsibility as a guide. Besides, the students can always ask their teacher if they get stuck.
21:48: OG: I think you’re relying too heavily on the teacher understanding the game fully, these people have full-time jobs and it’s possible they’ll be less technologically literate than the students under their care. Anyway, moving on, you’re clearly in breach of the Letting People Explore At Their Own Pace Act (2005) when you impose time limits on every level and – most heinously – outline that two of your levels are impossible to fully explore in the time allocated. I accuse you of traumatising your victims by withholding fun. What do you say?
21:50: Game: You’re being inconsistent with your criticisms. If this was a privileged upper-middle-class game on trial he’d be praised for providing multiple routes and replayability and he’d be out of that door in a shot.
21:51: OG: The point is that your victim didn’t enjoy the way you approached multiple routes, it felt constrained. You’ll be done for unjust imprisonment, sonny jim. The final accusation levelled at you is that your patented system for the digital distribution of videogames fails to perform the task as advertised. Our witness, a Mr. DuBBle, was forced to enter into email discourse with your co-conspirators over the failed delivery of the game, and over not being issued a key for the unlocking of your wonderparts. This whole process took nigh on two days. Can you say anything in your defence?
21:54: Game: It’s a fair cop.
I now, inexplicably, pass judgement on you, GC: Latin America’s Game:
13:37: OG: Shall we stop speaking like this, GC: Latin America’s Educational Value?
13:37: Education: Yes, let’s.
Serious Games’ ability to create informative interactive software is clearly where most of the skill points have been invested. GC: Latin America genuinely makes me wish I was back at school again, just so I could be taught in this way. Though I did fall victim to a really rather bad game, the interactive medium remains vastly more entertaining than reading from a textbook or listening to a teacher. Presenting students with people to meet and a world to explore certainly seems like a promising way to encourage a learning-process through engagement. By providing a mission to accomplish, Serious Games bypass traditional learning’s danger of becoming too abstract to be relevant. I can imagine students striving to remember the details of their encounters in Latin America because they’ll be necessary for the ‘end of level boss’ encounter with an important interviewee, in which the boss must be challenged with the gathered statements. That the facts will be remembered after Robotnik is defeated is entirely supplemental.
Whilst Willy Fogg completed his journey and returned home for crumpets and carrion, Serious Games still have a long way to go if they continue to seek this fabled mix of game and education. For now, they’ve provided a really rather good alternative to traditional learning which has opened my eyes on the issues facing Latin America.