When talking about the persuasive power of video games that promote causes, one participant points out that it will heavily depend on the…
player’s previous attitude to the cause promoted. If a player came to a game because he knew about the fact that this game was promoting that particular cause…that player would find his own set of beliefs reinforced by that game…whether positively or negatively (Swain).
Looking at games as systems, namely, “systems of rules that interact with each other and with a player,” Schreiber argues that games are especially good at carrying out certain messages “that involve learning how a system works.” The use of such messages within any game allows developers to understand, predict, and control (to a certain extent) the behavior of players. Such messages, according to Schreiber, are “uniquely suited to games;” moreover, games are good at evoking emotions from players about issues around which such messages are constructed.
The typical outcome in playing a cause video game, such as Darfur Is Dying, lies in the fact that the game allows players to form their own opinions (Fullerton). The typical/ideal outcome of someone playing an educational game will be that a player commands “a new systems-based understanding of the subject matter, as well as a sympathy to the perspectives of identity embodied in the game” (Norton). Norton believes that…
games offer a whole host of persuasive tools. Firstly [it] is the ability to place a player in a particular role (either an identity or a job). Secondly [it] is that games work on dynamic systems that are ‘purposefully’ designed to reward interaction with them.
Chris Swain, a participant and a developer of The Redistricting Game, sees great potential in video games and their powers to persuade. He looks at the interactive nature of the game and its ability to allow players to make their own conclusions as a “very persuasive and very clever” strategy. Of course, he argues, players do not enjoy being told that they made a wrong choice; instead, they prefer coming to that kind of conclusion themselves. The game, of course, guides players, punishes them for not taking the right action, and rewards them for taking the right one. Overall, according to White, players’
understanding of the issue depends on sort of how much of a virtual first-hand experience…[they] may have while playing the game. For example, with Third World Farmer Game, the context that I had was…watching the news and seeing the images of starving people in Africa. But that is not the same as actually having hands-on experience. I mean that if you do want a real hands-on experience, you should actually go to Africa, right? And you should work with those people, but short of doing that a game can give you a pretty compelling taste of what is like to walk in somebody else’s shoes.
Developers see multiple roles for games. It provides a player with new ways of looking at an issue among those who already know about the problem, and it stirs players’ curiosity about the issue for those who don’t have any knowledge about the issue. For some players who had some previous knowledge on the issue, the game provides an environment to deepen that existent knowledge.
For others, who are concerned about the issue promoted by the game and are ready to take action, the game provides an opportunity to take action. Although the developers sense that only a few players become activists, clicking on the action button will take a player to a website that will explain all the details of the activities he or she is ready to pursue. Better players will be better educated about the issue, and the more credible the information about a game, the greater the chances of drawing players who seek information about the issues promoted by the game.
All of the cause game developers interviewed agreed that the promotion of the issue through video games is a continuous but slow process that may take months if not years in order for a person to transform from a simple player into an activist. Such is the nature of the medium. It is not as upfront as television is, and it is not as complicated as reading a newspaper.
The game has an ability to convey its main purpose in a simple and fun way, which is enjoyable to any player. Oda summarized it very succinctly by saying “the goal of the game is to get people thinking about the game.” That is why it is important while launching a cause video game to support this launch with public relations activities such as television and blogs.
When talking about differences in the persuasive appeal of the games vs. traditional media, the participants were united in believing that games have a tremendous persuasive advantage over other media because they are not overtly stating a persuasive message but allowing the player to form their own opinion.
Taking this information into account and considering that gaming is a new medium with minimal reach and a questionable image in society, it is logical to conclude that to be successful, games of good quality should be given public relations exposure to gain awareness.
They should not simply be advertised via traditional media even though traditional media have enormous reach and a stable image of endorsers. According to Swain, even compared to New York Times article about The Redistricting Game, the CNN publicity attracted many more viewers and players to the game.