Monday, July 9, 2007

Games: The Next Political Frontier: An interesting LAT story about how some groups are designing and producing video games and board games as a way of raising awareness about the immigration issue. Game titles range from "ICED" to "La Migra" to "Border Patrol." Consider, for example, the game "Squeezed":
Students at the University of Denver plan to release a video game called Squeezed, created with a grant from mtvU and Cisco Systems and designed to raise empathy for migrant laborers. The player takes the form of a tree-hopping, bandana-wearing frog who leaves home to seek work abroad as a fruit picker.

The fruit is squeezed into juice for the virtual economy, and the frog can either spend his juice earnings on himself or send them to family members back home. If relatives don't receive enough juice, they send bad news, the frog's "despair" meter rises and he picks less fruit.
And "immigration" isn't the only issue video games can explore. This story also mentions "Darfur is Dying" (also sponsored by mtvU), which attends to life in a refugee camp. A number of these games are available online for free, too, so you can check them out. I've tried my hand at "Darfur is Dying," and the game play is pretty straightforward (even if the subject matter is--understandably--grim).

Along with mtvU and Cisco, a number of other foundations support further research into and use of games as a political resource and teaching tool:
The MacArthur Foundation recently awarded a $1.1-million grant toward the development of a school in New York that would use games to teach core subjects. Through so-called serious video games, students can role-play and solve problems, said Connie Yowell, the foundation's director of education.

"Games can be a prototype for curriculum in the 21st century," she said.
I know Thoreau once said that "all voting is a sort of gaming," but I don't know if he had this in mind...