Patricia Hernandez has an in-depth article on Kotaku today examining iBeg, a game that seeks to raise awareness about homelessness, and the broader challenges facing games for change in general. She begins by looking at iBeg‘s Kickstarter campaign and describing how there’s something about it that makes her uncomfortable:
The name alone is wince-inducing, yes—why can’t we let the whole “i__” die? But beyond this, I began thinking about other possible issues: does the game’s cute pixel art detract from the bleak reality of the issue? “There is a balance that we have to maintain between keeping the game engaging enough for players to want to keep playing it, but also introduce them to all of the negative things that homeless people have to go through,” Worboys explained. Then I began wondering: maybe such a concession was necessary, because it helped make the game more palatable for people who may not want to deal with the full weight of the issue. Games like to function as escapism and feel-goodery, after all.
Feel-goodery is often antithesis to spreading awareness. Actually understanding difficult, systemic issues like homelessness is not comfortable, and a game that seeks to have the player experience what it is like to be in such a situation simply cannot be “fun.”
Hernandez goes on to interview Ari Burak, co-president of Games For Change, as well as the supervisor of a homeless shelter, who speaks about how the Kickstarter money for something like iBeg would help if it went directly to a homeless shelter instead. She also examines some of the more practical considerations for these types of games, such as publisher hesitancy when it comes to backing games that are about a message.
The article is a thorough and thoughtful examination of an area of games that is often either dismissed or blown out of proportion. If you have time for one long read today, make it this one.
The Complicated Truth Behind Games That Want To Change The World — Patricia Hernandez, Kotaku