Why a GAME for good? A response to Keogh’s critique

In his critique of McGonigal’s “Play, don’t Replay!” campaign, Brendan Keogh said: “To the games evangelists, games become hammers and all the world starts to look like a nail.” While his central theme did not build on this point, it served as a starting point for this thought.

Choosing a medium for an intervention is not a simple choice, and should be somewhat iterative.  Any intervention should justify their choice of medium. It is a valid design approach to review the strengths of each available medium.  Only then, should one ask: why a game, and not a billboard, brochure, or elearning style app?

For example, consider two tools to help a 4th grader memorize multiplication tables: a set of flash cards, and a video game. Which one is more expensive to build, risky to design? What benefits would a game really bring, in light of the goal?  Why build a new game when there are many such games already? What significant problem could such a new game bring? Not much, argued math game designer Keith Devlin.

Games are justified when their unique abilities are mapped to the needs of the project.  But how can one decide when that’s the case? One way to start is to review “what can games do?”

Do do so, we must start by identifying an aim. For example we might aim to “improve young people’s capacity for leadership in social justice”.  we might then consider past successes: Games are known to …

You might then imagine other, novel uses of video games:

  • Recruit “typical teens” into your team. Here, we have leaders engaging peers by inviting them to play an online game around the topic. THrough in-game interactions, the two youth build relationships and begin to work together.
  • Create the change you want to see.  The idea here is the game mechanic IS the intervention.

Of course, none of these address the question “what do games do BEST?” but it is an easy way to spark a creative discussion.  If appealing ideas are sparked, the next question can criticize: “Can we achieve those same means via some other media (website, brochure, etc)?”  This will likely involve developing the game concept a beyond a spark of an idea.

(to be continued…)