The 'How Not To' Game
Our partners How Not 2 create some great video training on how not to do certain skills such as coaching, reviews or difficult conversations. Now our friends over at the FBI have released a game that could basically be a how not to create a serious game.
I have no qualms with their intention – helping young people avoid radicalisation is a good cause but I have issues with the way they have gone about it.
I’m not going to comment a lot on the content but just a few points that struck me… Leaving aside the graphical treatment as we’ll come onto that below– the content delivery is all tell tell tell. There’s no discovery. At the end of the day it’s a fancy menu. There is no connection between game play and content at all, it might as well not be there.
The approach and delivery apart from being patronising and alienating, with community leaders speaking out strongly against the messages the site has some really questionable messages:
The radicalisation of young people is a very complex subject matter and the site is based around the concept of don’t be a puppet – well I’m pretty sure if you are on your way to being radicalised then you might well see the US government as being the puppet master and western citizens as the puppets so to me, that doesn’t work.
And you play the game element as a goat… I mean who thought that would be a good idea?
The game design itself is a mixed collection of genres and metaphors as well as technologies and immersion breaking gaffs.
The first element of the experience is an endless runner, or as PJ our creative producer calls it an “endless goater”, where you play a goat, which looks like it could have escaped from Minecraft, avoiding blocks and if you pass a level you get a message about 1 of the 6 steps of the slippery slope of radicalisation. Now I have no beef (or should that be goat) with this style of graphics – Minecraft is incredibly popular after all, so I see where they were going with it, but 3 issues here:
1) You play a goat… WTH?
2) The goat is named Poonikins. Poonikins was a mod that introduced a homicidal horse into GTA IV. To see what the horse got up to check out this video . So let’s get this straight… you play a character named after a homicidal animal on the slippery slope…. Hmmm
3) You play on a tablet with PC controls (hmmm) and then when the game is over you zoom out from a Game Boy… but I was just on a tablet. Have I just time travelled. Why!?!?
After the Endless ‘Goater’, you transition into this swishy main interface which zooms round some kind of abandoned garage/underground bunker – this bit I kinda like as there’s a lot of detail and the transitions are quite nice…
….but then when you get into each section it’s just boring elearning, drag and drop and what makes it worse is that you go from a detailed environment to an interface that has had absolutely no graphical treatment whatsoever – it’s like they couldn’t be bothered!
I ‘ve said before that making good games and good interactions is quite difficult, but seriously – there have been so many rules broken in this one experience it’s almost like a game to spot them themselves.
However the number one, fundamental rule that has been broken here is understanding your audience. Only use a game approach if it will benefit the message – never shoe horn in game mechanics as it’s the cool thing to do, or because kids like games so let’s use one… it just doesn’t work like that.
Games are not suitable for everything, but there have been some great games produced which talk about some pretty serious messages related to war that could be used to spark deeper more useful discussions such as This War Of Mine created by 11bitstudios.
Or how about September 12th described by Games for Change as
So there are better ways to get the message across, to spark debate and have meaningful and enlightening conversations. Overall it seems the funders and producers of this game experience haven’t really thought through all the implications of the messages and delivery medium but they have given us a good case study of how not to create a serious game.