The Escapist Magazine
Issue 82
Playing for Keeps
Editor's Note Playing for Keeps

"In the past year or so, I've been hearing things whispered about serious games at conferences and tossed around in emails. People are talking about games where you play suicide bombers, games where you're a border guard, games where you're a white supremacist. Unafraid of (and sometimes attracted to) the taboo, I figured it was time to see what this whole serious games thing was about, where the good parties were.
A few months later, the only real conclusion I've been able to draw is serious games are here to stay, and the messages they carry are as varied as the people creating them. Each time I get bored with one game, I stumble into another one with a completely different premise and point, and I shuffle further into the rabbit hole.
The good news is my investigations have been pretty cheap. A lot of serious games are released for free or as shareware; these folks are happier to change your outlook on life than they are to take your money. And as I've made my way around the internet, chasing the genre I used to ignore, I've managed to hang onto five games that serve as a great introduction to the genre. Here, in no particular order, are the games you need to check out if you want to get serious about serious games."

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"One could argue that the entire idea of A Force More Powerful is a change in philosophy from most games. Though all of us are familiar with the setup - unsavory leadership oppresses the people and must be humbled - AFMP forces you to confront the challenge through entirely non-violent means. 'The game is still confrontational,' says BreakAway's lead designer, Ananda Gupta. 'You have to stand up to the r

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"PAM brought a firestorm of ghastly publicity. DARPA cancelled it immediately, and Poindexter resigned a month later. (Several Total Information Awareness programs are still funded under classified appropriations.) In a Slate commentary called 'Bookmakers for the Bomb-Makers,' Daniel Gross observed that 'the market might defeat itself. The Pentagon wanted to create the PAM in order to gather information it could use to stop terrorism and reduce instability. If it saw, say, that people were betting heavily on the assassination of Iraq's interim president, the Defense Department would start searching for some assassination plot in the hopes of rooting it out. But preventing the assassination would cause all the people who bet on it to lose their money. Insofar as the market helped the United States stabilize the region and prevent terror, investors would suffer. The more it succeeded on policy, the more it would fail as a market, and the sooner it would collapse.'"

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"The limelight given to controversial games with flashy graphics outshone the long tradition of military gaming. Some of the earliest examples we have of games in history have martial traditions. Serious games just happened to be a sexier turn of phrase. I know it's hard to imagine something taking off in America just because of its sex appeal, but it's true.
"All this hoopla overshadowed the existing $20 billion modeling, training and simulation market already in existence. Companies like Northrop Grumman and Boeing had been building applications that used interactive elements and computer graphics for decades. Usually attached to multi-million dollar sets of computers, the graphics were lacking, but the number crunching was spot on. There's a huge debate over whether a simulation is a game or something else, but as long as Microsoft Flight Simulator is considered fun (more power to you; enjoy), I'd say the distinction is moot. When you use an interactive interface as the primary delivery medium for an application, you're stepping into game territory."

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