Meet the anti-FIFA brigade. The games that follow are innovative. Different. What could be more different than a card game about the US constitution and a dancing game choreographed by the Dutch National Ballet? Or a war game where the aim is not to rack up a giddy kill combo, but to help ordinary people survive in a besieged and blasted city?
Games that leverage entertainment and engagement for social good.
These are just three of the eight offbeat indie titles that the Games For Change organisation believes “leverage entertainment and engagement for social good.” The games have been split into three categories – Best Gameplay, Most Significant Impact and Most Innovative. The overall winner will be the game that shines brightest in all three.
Will that be Never Alone (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac)? Shortlisted in the Best Gameplay category, this beautiful and chilly puzzler was developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people. Drawing on stories and characters from Iñupiat folklore, you switch between Nuna and her companion, an arctic fox. Together, they must explore the Arctic to find the source of the eternal blizzard that threatens Nuna’s village.
This War of Mine (Windows, Mac, Linux) couldn’t be more different. It’s a washed-out, bleak-looking 2D adventure that gives you control of several civilians trapped in a war zone. Your aim? Explore your wrecked surroundings, scavenge what you can and survive however you can, defending your meagre resources against other survivors just as desperate as you. There are some hard choices to make along the way.
That’s Your Right (Online) completes the Best Gameplay category, a single- or multiplayer browser-based card game that’s designed to help students learn about their rights under the Bill of Rights. It’s surprisingly fun, even for us Brits. Try it out for yourself at www.annenbergclassroom.org/page/thats-your-right.
Never Alone is also nominated in the Most Significant Impact category alongside MindLight (Windows, Mac) and Zoo U (Online). MindLight is a 3D game that works with a neurofeedback headset, “through which children learn to manage and overcome anxiety symptoms.”
Zoo U, meanwhile, pitches itself as “the only game that assesses and teaches social skills”, doing so in a school for future zookeepers. Here, players learn how to think before acting, how to communicate effectively and how to work with others to achieve goals.
The final three games battle it out in the Most Innovative category. It’s easy to see why Bounden (Android, iOS) is here. It’s a dancing game for two players that gets you up on your feet performing a series of twists and twirls choreographed by the Dutch National Ballet. It’s a game that could only work with a smartphone and is one of the more ingenious mobile games we’ve seen.
The same applies to Skip a Beat (iOS), a mobile game that uses your heart rate as a game controller. While Parable of the Polygons (Online) is a blog-post featuring playable games that explore themes of segregation and bias with the help of grumpy blue squares and unhappy yellow triangles. You can play it for yourself at: http://ncase.me/polygons.
The eight games above aren’t big-hitters like FIFA, Destiny or Call of Duty. But they are refreshingly, daringly different, either teaching players something useful or making them think about subjects they might easily have dismissed. In an age of safe sequels and uninspired FPS games, either approach takes some real guts.
Which game will win? Find out on April 22.