Meaningful Play – Newsgame’s “September 12th: A Toy World”

I recently published an article on First Person Scholar , the University of Waterloo’s peer-reviewed online journal. Check it out – it’s called “Meaningful Play: Anti-Immersive Aesthetics in Serious Videogames.” Here is the abstract:

In “Videogames of the Oppressed,” game developer Gonzalo Frasca of Powerful Robot Games argues that videogames can effectively address “critical thinking, education, and tolerance.” Today, games are no longer strictly defined as objects of entertainment; by simulating environments that players can interact with, the procedural rhetoric of a game, in Ian Bogost’s terms, displays the practice of authoring arguments through design. Newsgame’s “September 12th” was designed to convince players of a meaningful message through its rules and construction. The legitimacy of this as a “game” has been called into question, mostly because it is not inherently possible to win or lose, and the player is only given one action to perform: to launch a missile at terrorists hiding in a simulated urban setting. Some critics have hailed “September 12th” as no more than an “interactive model” of a concept based on real life rather than a game, yet the term “interactive” raises many possibilities. If games rely on the active participation of the user not only for interpretation, but also for accessing the message being put forth, what level of interaction (and choice) must a game offer in order to be effective? In an attempt to answer this question, this paper surveys the role of interactivity in gaming and whether the player’s ability to control the method and outcome of their experience equates to how we define a “game.” Thus, by unpacking simulated representations of reality in several games, this paper attempts to prove that games can do more than just entertain – they can effectively offer an alternative way of understanding the world. Furthermore, by examining games as educational tools, this paper will show how persuasive games can give context to prominent cultural debates by communicating empathy within a social and political framework through their design, operation, and structure.

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