“Depressing” Games

A question I’d like to pose: do you think a game with a serious theme (i.e. the Holocaust, or the African-American civil rights movement) could be commercially successful in the US market?

Such a game would almost certainly go a long way towards silencing skeptics who say “games can’t be art.” More importantly, it would help young people understand the great injustices of the past. Reading a textbook is one thing, playing a prisoner in a concentration camp is quite another.

But would these games reach enough people? Would they be profitable? And how would you make them fun without blurring the social message?

It works for movies, but…

Movies like Schindler’s List seem to be evidence of a possible market for this kind of game. However, there’s a big difference between asking consumers to commit to a passive two to three-hour experience and a longer, much more interactive experience. Furthermore, while the age of the average gamer is rising every year, it’s still true that most adults above the age of 35 aren’t playing too many console games… and of course, a fair chunk of Schindler’s List’s audience was probably above the age of 35. That’s primarily a profit issue; educationally, a younger audience is great!

But *if* there is a large enough market for this type of game, what would be the pre-requisites for success? I’d imagine that a game would have to strike the perfect balance between providing the player with a near-constant sense of accomplishment (i.e. the “fun” of the game), while frequently (but not constantly) bombarding the player with negative imagery, interactions, etc. Tasteful-if-infrequent comic-relief would, I suspect, be crucial.

Some examples

A Holocaust game could take place in the Warsaw Ghetto. Starting activities might be as simple as obtaining food and hiding personal valuables, but might quickly graduate to activities related to the establishment of the Jewish resistance, and eventually, the Jewish uprising. Player activity could even end on a “high note” (i.e. a major victory during the uprising), though the closing sequences of the game should clearly reflect that in the end, the uprising was crushed. I imagine this game playing like a stealth-centric FPS.

A civil liberties game might work best as a simulation (i.e. Sim City-ish). The player would be tasked with coordinating non-violent protests, helping individuals who are unjustly jailed, courting friendly journalists, etc. Bad things (threats, beatings, property damage) would frequently happen to the population the player is trying to protect, as would less frequent “major setbacks” (i.e. a legal attack by a powerful politician). I believe there have been attempts at making a game like this, though I don’t believe any of those were serious commercial attempts with a clear social message. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

In conclusion…

Sorry, no conclusion today. I’m just curious to hear what you all think.  đź™‚

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