Death Tig: Interview with Serious Games’ Mikkel Overby

Death Tig: Interview with Serious Games’ Mikkel Overby

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My gosh, we’ve spoken to a lot of people willing to speak to us as of late. Today, I think we’ve duly outdone ourselves, as we chitchat with a man in possession of the most wondrous willingness of all. This man is Mikkel Overby, Commercial Director of Serious Games – the people who made Global Conflicts: Palestine and GC: Latin America.

TR: Let’s start with a huge quote. In The Learning Effects of Global Conflict: Palestine, Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen [another of the brains behind Serious Games] remarked, “When developing computer games for educational use, you are faced with the challenge of designing a computer game that should be as engaging and challenging as a commercial computer game, but at the same time meets the requirements of lesson plans and curriculum while catering to very diverse target groups”. Do you think that GC: Palestine and Latin America have met these goals?

* I think that these two games are the ones closest to meeting these goals. I believe that both of them have set new standards for what you can expect from educational computer games. That said, I believe that we still have some way to go. We are building a new market and are learning as we move forward. We should continue to strive to make our titles more engaging and also make them fit even better to curriculum requirements and classroom teaching.

TR: The Global Conflicts games have been introduced to students in many regions, including Israel and Palestine. Do students within conflict-zones suffer any unique difficulties in accessing and experiencing Serious Games’ products, for example, due to power shortages?

* The intention with the Global Conflicts series is actually to educate people outside the conflict regions about the situation inside. I think that if you are living inside a conflict zone you will not get the same learning experience from meeting people in the region. Moreover, you may find that some of the nuances of the situation is missing – which they obviously are as we aim to provide players an understanding of complex issues such as for instance settlements in 1 hour. However, we are very happy if the games are played by people within the conflict zones and they may contribute to provide an understanding of the situation from a new angle.

TR: Are there any regions which you would consider currently unsuitable for the reception of your games, due to local conflict creating a difficult situation for a business like Serious Games to operate, and for students to learn?

* I think that technical limitations can prevent students from playing the games but in terms of the content I find that the games are suitable for all regions.

TR: GC: Latin America has been mechanistically simplified compared to its predecessor. Features such as balancing the trust/quote ratio so that your interviewee will like you enough to bare his/her soul to you have been removed in favour of less complex characters. Another example of this is the much more straightforward system of collecting quotes, which is now done automatically. Why were these design decisions made and do you think they were successful?

* We received some comments from educational institutions that at times Palestine was too complex and too long. In order to lower the complexity and make sure that the majority of students in the target group could finish a mission within 60 min we simplified the design in the respects you mention. However, we also advanced it by putting in the final interview where you have to use arguments wisely to make the interviewee confess. In sum, I think that there are pros and cons of the new gameplay but in the end it all comes down to which target group we aim at.

TR: Some might remark that GC: Latin America is more ‘factual’ in certain scenarios than in others. For example, the level themed around immigration to the US is highly informative, with reference to community groups – No More Deaths and the Minutemen – on both sides of the debate; yet the tutorial level concerning factories close to the US border within Mexico mentions that most of the maquiladoras are owned by US companies, but no specific names are mentioned. Is there a reason for this?

* The specific community groups we mention have very central and important roles in regards to the conflicts. When we made the Maquiladoras mission we quickly discovered that so many corporations have exploited the opportunity of building factories across the border. Mentioning just a few of these and not others would be unjust. Also we wanted to direct attention to the general problems of maquiladoras rather than specific use by a single company.

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