Continuing my contemplation about video games, what I really want to see in a game and how games can be a tool in social justice work. I had a conversation with a friend of mine last night who had read my post about Fable III and had some comments about what I had said. He is a programmer so he knew which parts of my musings were not possible in the fabrication of games. I understand theoretically and very basically how games are put together and know that a game with unlimited choices is impossible because one could never program the myriad choices that people might think up. I don’t necessarily think that this limitation really puts a limit on the content that I would like to see in a game or the ability a game might have to make people think critically about their decisions instead of just giving a false choice between “good” and “bad.”

It got me thinking about what I really wanted to see in games that I have not found in my limited game experience. And I realized it has to do with where the characters begin. The starting point matters. In making decisions as a character who is a prince or a hero one has very limited capacity for imagining why someone might make the bad decision, unless they are purposefully trying to play the game that way. What if games were not so one-sided though? What if instead you could play a game where you could see how the starting point of different characters affects how they make their decisions and how because of starting points these decisions could be judged as wrong by where the other characters come from. The complexity of choices in life is massive and it is this complexity that is missed in games. What if one was able to view or play as 3 different characters, a princess, someone of the middle class and someone poor. From the outset basic decisions would have vastly different consequences for each of these characters. It would be an amazing way to consider others’ points of view and to think about why people do the things that they do.

One game that I have not had the opportunity to play, but which I really like the idea of is a game called Consent designed by youth in a program by Global Kids. In this game you play as a person in jail and are asked to make choices about participating in medical studies. The game is based on the experimentation of African-American prisoners in the United States from the 1940’s on. As you get injected with experimental drugs, cancer, and more you get early parole or money and may be written up if you choose not to participate. Your health, moral and wealth increase or decrease depending on your choices until you are granted parole. To see a video of the game click here:

This game does not show multiple perspectives, but does present choices from a different viewpoint than that of many games. Understanding different viewpoints is crucial to creating change. If one understands where someone is coming from, it becomes much more difficult to judge them as immediately wrong. Maybe their decisions are not the best ones for themselves or their communities, but there is a reason that they make those decisions. Because video games allow the player to assume the role of another they are an incredible tool in moving toward understanding. It makes me ask myself, what if more games started from a different point? What if you were not a princess/hero/soldier or other armed figure? How would that change the decisions that you make?