Mariner, meanwhile, talked about his work with FunRigger on a project called Elephant Parade Safari. “Blending art, business, and charity,” this mobile app required a bit of a background story: The Elephant Parade is an event that takes place in a number of cities around the world, where artists paint life-sized elephant statues that are placed around the city for weeks before eventually being auctioned off. Proceeds from the auctions go to the Asian Elephant Foundation (a financial support organization for the endangered Asian elephant) and ultimately pay for things like a prosthetic limb for an elephant that lost a limb after stepping on a landmine.
Again, this being an age of mobile tech, these sculptures now have QR codes on their bases, which is where Elephant Parade Safari comes in. Meant to encourage players to explore their cities, capture the experience of the Elephant Parade, and spread awareness about the Asian elephant, Elephant Parade Safari tasks users with scanning the QR codes of as many sculptures as possible to “collect” all of the elephants that are stationed all around their communities. “It’s a Pokedex,” Mariner said, drawing a parallel between his app and the cataloguing system of the popular Pokemon games. The app started with a soft launch in Milan and was most recently launched in Singapore, where the Elephant Parade also takes place.
And there are many typical gamification elements with Elephant Parade Safari, like the Guardian system, which is somewhat similar to mayors in Foursquare. People who become guardians of certain elephants are tasked with reporting vandalism or damage to the sculptures. “Of course, this wasn’t as necessary in Singapore, where there is a shockingly low crime rate,” said Mariner.
Games and Youth, From Chicago to Abu Dhabi
Others, like Murphy and Macklin, took a different approach in that instead of having specific games that they had designed, they spoke about their experiences in using games as a means to work with children.
“I love making these games [for change], but sometimes I feel a little uncomfortable about it, it’s unsettling,” said Macklin. “I feel like we’re just making a game, dropping it on people, and assuming it’ll make a change.”
Murphy, a game designer for ChicagoQuest schools, noted how the Chicago youth that he worked with seemed to respond well to game-related challenges. For instance, he would match students based on their working styles with different fantasy archetypes; those who were heavily into research would be mages, leaders were warriors, etc. The kids would then be split into groups (“guilds”), to complete certain challenges, but different character classes would bring unique bonuses to their groups, highlighting the importance of their roles. When completing challenges outside, for example, rangers could rack up bonuses for their guilds by finding a pinecone.
“There’s a lot of potential in using game-like learning to develop socio-emotional skills,” said Murphy.
Macklin, from Parsons The New School of Design in New York, spoke about the school’s Activate! Games Program in Abu Dhabi. By teaching youth in Abu Dhabi how to create video games surrounding social issues, the Activate! Program served as a means to strengthen their skills in not just science and technology, but also in critical thinking, problem solving, and creative design.
But Activate! taught Macklin something, too. Upon seeing the end of a promotional video for the program in which one of the female students in Abu Dhabi told the cameraman, “Tell them I’m smart,” Macklin was struck by how desperate the gaming industry is for diversification, especially in terms of gender.
In Macklin’s opinion, it’s not just social issues that need the attention of the gaming community, but also gaming itself. “So it isn’t just games for change that we want…what we really need is change for games,” said Macklin. “And in order to do that, we need to treat games as an art form.”
“Game programming should not just be taught in computer classes, but also in art classes,” Macklin continued as she pointed out how even the speakers at GDC are predominantly male. “We need to be integrating game design into courses because we know we need to diversify.”
“It takes all of us to make the changes,” she said. “It takes all of us to make sure the voices are diversifying.”
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