The World of Borecraft Pt.2 As a counterpoint to Justin Peter's rather critical account of the serious game phenomenon over at Slate, Gamasutra takes a more sympathetic look at digital games with an agenda. In Who Says Video Games Have to be Fun? The Rise of Serious Games some major players in the field get a chance to voice their opinions on the current state of the discipline, its potentials and problems – one of them being that despite the increased media coverage, these gaming forms still lack some mainstream success. Says Chris Swain, assistant professor in the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media Division and a co-director of the school’s Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab:
"the field of political/activist games is very young. We need some success stories to prove our value because right now political games mostly grab headlines and have little real impact.”
But the cause is legitimate and important and in the long run can only benefit the medium:
“I’m all for escapism,” Frasca [Gonzalo Frasca, co-founder of Powerful Robot Games] of says, “but I think that games that deal with serious topics can be more engaging to certain people.” “For 30 years now we’ve focused on making games produce fun,” adds Bogost [Ian Bogost, founding partner of Persuasive Games]. “Isn’t it about time we started working toward other kinds of emotional responses?” Bogost believes that will happen eventually. “I know that comparisons to the film industry have grown tired and overused,” he says, “but indulge me in this one: when you watch the Academy Awards this year, how many films in the running for awards are about big explosions and other forms of immediate gratification, and how many are about the more complex subtleties of human experience? “Someday, hopefully someday soon, we'll look back at video games and laugh at how unsophisticated we are today,” Bogost adds. “It's like going to the cineplex and every screen is showing a Michael Bay flick.”
Good call. Even though taking fun out of games while keeping them engaging is a very thin and delicate line. Which also leads to the question: can a game about such an issue as Israeli-Palestine conflict be "fun"? Or rather: should it be fun? Wouldn't that trivialize the horror and the casualties of the conflict? It certainly can be engaging, as PeaceMaker demonstrates. But then again, as I pointed out before, the decision for a certain form of game design always depends on the kind of agenda-game you're working on. Taking the fun out of games might work better for Bogost's newsgame approach and his focus on the mundane. The annoying issues these games are dealing with are mainly conveyed by annoying mechanics, which constitute the main message (actually that's the case with all games since they aren't a narrative medium – they, so far, just aren't suited to tell stories – but here this fact is put to the front).