Advergaming? Part VI.

Educational and Persuasive Advergames.

Thus far, it is clear that online games can be considered educational, serious, and/or persuasive. In addition to these qualities, games can promote a product, service or cause. For the purposes of this thesis, a game that does all of these things—educates players about multiple aspects of an issue, tackles a cause, and promotes a cause or a brand with a call to action—will be referred to as an educational advergame. A game that tackles a cause, and promotes a cause or brand with a call to action, and uses persuasive techniques that do not necessarily inform players about all possibilities will be referred to as a persuasive advergame.

A traditional advergame is typically one with a few targeted product placements and messages embedded into it for promotional purposes, whereas an educational game contains these elements but focuses on a different goal than promoting products or services. Taking those two definitions into account, an educational advergame uses promotional messages embedded into it and helps players become more knowledgeable about the issue. Furthermore, the educational advergame teaches players about different issues and different possible outcomes of the same problem by contributing to the body of knowledge accumulated within the player. The importance of the educational advergame to the body of knowledge can be determined by answering several questions: 1) Is the game helping members of the culture understand significant social/political phenomenon within the society? 2) If so, does the game provide all possible alternative explanations to the phenomenon pictured within the game? If both questions are answered “yes,” then it is a truly educational game.

If we look at the Dean for America game, we would see that it is trying not only to educate people on how to promote a candidate, but it actually promotes Howard Dean. Some advergames promote a political candidate or show a player how to promote the candidate, while a game with an educational goal may show a player how to distribute promotional leaflets for the candidate. Dean for America promotes a candidate and a way to educate players to support a candidate and has educational elements; however, it does not offer a set of alternatives to Dean. Thus, it is more fitting to call it a persuasive advergame. Bogost (2007, p. 57) argues, “[e]ducational games translate existing political goals in videogame form.” Theoretically, an educational advergame may teach a player about a particular political candidate or cause; however, it remains true to its educational mission and provides multiple points of views. On the other hand, a persuasive advergame promotes a particular candidate or cause, but it provides only one solution and ignores other alternatives (e.g., The Redistricting Game).

Another dimension that may help to sort out different types of video games in existence is the success criteria for their release and use. The criteria of success for all types of the games require the meeting of goals. For example, a political video game may “seek to establish policy positions that support the political agents and constituencies who advance those positions,” whereas an advergame may “seek to produce image-makers that support the agencies that produce advertising” (Bogost, 2007, p. 319).[1]

[1] Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

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