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The Failings of 'Serious Games': Packaging Man

Ian Bogost has a short little note on a 'serious game' called Packaging Man, which was apparently intended 'to raise awareness about the destructive impact fast food paper packaging has on Southern forests.' Unfortunately for Dogwood Alliance, the creator, the game is a slightly retooled version of Pac-man, and the 'environmental message' seems confined to the (skippable) intro. Ian wasn't terribly impressed:

So when I received creator Dogwood Alliance's announcement I took them up on their offer to answer questions. Explain to me, I asked as nicely as I'm probably capable of, how your game, a straight port of Pac-Man with some colors changed, represents "saving forest creatures by collecting excessive packaging and recycling it?" They were kind enough to reply, citing the opening sequence and the end-of level "call to action" petition. They also pointed me to environmental blog Gristmill's mention of the game, which generally mirrors my opinion. So many missed opportunities. I may have built a reputation for taking pleasure from negative reviews of serious games, but I'd really much rather write positive ones. I just never seem to get the opportunity to do so.

As he points out, the short page on the creator's website does a much better job of informing the audience than the game, which does very little informing at all. 'If the two pages of text on a webpage offers so much more rich and subtle information than a game, then why bother with the game?' he asks. Why indeed — I've played some interesting 'serious games,' but really, a mere Pac-man clone does not a 'serious game' make. At least, not an effective one. Packaging Man: Skip the Wrapper and the Game [Water Cooler Games]


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