The Rise of High-quality Nonprofit Videogaming
A new nonprofit shows that well-designed games can also do the world some good."Good works are links that form a chain of love." -Mother TheresaAt a conference of the country's top advertising agencies in 1941, legendary salesman James Webb Young took the stage in Hot Springs, Arizona, to ask a very important question: The ink was still drying on the Atlantic Charter, which would serve as the Allied blueprint for World War II, and Madison Avenue wanted to know how it could help.Producing such legendary taglines as "Loose Lips Sink Ships" and characters like Rosie the Riveter, the Council rallied Americans to support their troops. When the war had ended, they were renamed the Advertising Council and ever since the nonprofit solicits the work of advertising agencies on behalf of nonprofit clients like the United Negro College Fund.Martin de Ronde says he's never heard of Ad Council, but his new nonprofit, OneBigGame, is cut from the same cloth. Founded in 2006 by de Ronde after he left Guerrilla Games, the publisher works with developers to create products and then donates the proceeds to Save the Children and Starlight Children's Foundation. Developed by Zoë Mode, who popularized Sony's SingStar series, OneBigGame's first project, Chime, was released as a download for the Xbox 360.But playing Chime, you wouldn't know the game was done as a philanthropic endeavor. Somewhere between the bright colors of Geometry Wars and the puzzle block placement of Tetris, Chime has players place blocks and attempt to create large quadrants to fill up the gameboard. The bigger the quadrants, the more you fill and the more points you get. The game is also melodic, with the backing tracks of artists like Philip Glass and Moby, who donated material pro-bono. High quality is OneBigGame's M.O.; they don't want products that feel cobbled together."It's an entrepreneurial charity," de Ronde says. "Rather than going out to the companies and asking for money, we're asking for a certain amount of time and creativity. That's far more interesting rather than making a donation." In addition to Chime, OneBigGame will be publishing new games from Charles Cecil, creator of the Broken Sword series, and Masaya Matsuura, father of the classic PlayStation franchise PaRappa the Rapper.OneBigGame is an interesting approach at doing good through videogames. The "serious games" movement put political messages at the forefont, as with MTV's Darfur is Dying. But one of the prevailing critiques of serious games has been that they're not very well-designed. Justin Peters wrote a scathing review of serious games in Slate in 2007: "In taking the fun out of video games, companies like [serious gamemaker] Persuasive make them less alluring to people who love games and more alluring to people who don't," he wrote. (I disagree with Peters's distinction that games must be "fun," but he seems to be using it as a proxy for "well-designed.")Of course, social conscience and high-quality gameplay are not mutually exclusive, but it's exciting to see OneBigGame approach one part of the problem. By inspiring designers to think of themselves and as (indirect) agents of social change, they're influencing people who buy games like Chime.
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