Socially conscious gaming stutters to maturity

You probably couldn‘t guess what CyberDodo, star of his own series of video games, is up to in his latest adventure. Hands up if you thought it was “œdefending children against sexual exploitation“? Anybody?
Of course, the rights of children are a serious, serious topic but at, they‘re also the stuff that video games are made of. The website, which counts Interpol and the United Nations Commission on the Rights of the Child as its partners, aims to spread awareness of several threats to children in the world, including starvation and sexual slavery.
So, how are these games?

In this game, Cyberdodo "fights" sexual exploitation by rescuing distressed children with a rope ladder and knocking bad kids over the head with coconuts. Just like in real life, then.

Terrible. Truly, truly terrible. If CyberDodo weren‘t bribing its users with DSi‘s and Nintendo Wii‘s for achieving high scores in so-called “œtournaments“, there‘s little doubt that interest in CyberDodo and the right to live with your parents and CyberDodo and the fight against obesity would flatline.
But are socially conscious games doomed from the start?
Of course not. As gamers, it‘s taken us nearly four decades to get from Pong to Heavy Rain, which as we speak is shifting the goalposts in the “œcan games be art?“ debate. Socially conscious games, which are still in their infancy in the games world, commercially speaking, can and will become more effective at getting their message across in an engaging, interactive way.
You need only look at recent proponents of news gaming to see an improvement on CyberDodo‘s failed fun-tainment. Peacemaker, which challenges players to reduce hostilities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been lauded by the mainstream gaming press both for its playability and for its message. The game, which incorporates real-world news footage and events, takes players outside the living room through innovative design, instead of oversimplifying important social issues through an arcade-like experience.

We may have more bad examples than good to go on, for now, but if Peacemaker‘s example, and indeed the principles of solid game design, can be followed, then socially conscious gaming has a good deal of relevance and popularity to look forward to.