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. 


Screenshot from Slippery Slope game

Screenshot from Slippery Slope game

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…

Main room interface

Main room interface

….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! 

Groupthink elearning section - this'll go viral for sure!

Groupthink elearning section - this'll go viral for sure!

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. 

This War Of Mine provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle. For the very first time you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city. During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, so you need to focus on maintaining your hideout. At night you get a chance to scavenge nearby locations for items that will help you stay alive.
Make life-and-death decisions driven by your conscience. Try to protect everybody from your shelter or sacrifice some of them to endure the hardships. During war, there are no good or bad decisions; there is only survival. The sooner you realize that, the better.

Or how about September 12th described by Games for Change as

The New York Times described September 12th as “An Op-Ed composed not of words but of actions”. This newsgame became a viral hit by exposing the futility of the US-led War on Terror. Created by a team of Uruguayan game developers lead by a former CNN journalist, this was the first game of the series that coined the term newsgame.
The project’s main idea was to use the language of videogames to describe current events while conveying a timeless maxim: violence begets more violence. The player controls what seems to be a sniper rifle target but, when clicked, launches missiles. The bombs not only kill the terrorists but also generate so-called “collateral damage”. When civilians mourn the innocent dead they soon turn into terrorists. After a couple of minutes, this Middle-Eastern village is destroyed and crawling with terrorists. The player soon realizes that there is no way to win the game through shooting.
The game’s main goal was not to convince people that the War on Terror was wrong. Instead, it aimed at triggering discussion among young players.

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. 

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