Serious Games by Lucas Pope

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Welcome to The Republia Times.  You are the new editor-in-chief.

The war with Antegria is over and the rebellion uprising has been crushed. Order is slowly returning to Republia.

The public is not loyal to the government.

It is your job to increase their loyalty by editing The Republia Times carefully. Pick only stories that highlight the good things about Republia and its government.

You have 3 days to raise the public’s loyalty to 20.

As a precaution against influence, we are keeping your wife and child in a safe location.

So begins this simple, engaging, Flash-based game by Lucas Pope called The Republia Times. The first time I played it, I was charmed by the simple graphics, which reminded me of games I used to play on my Apple IIe. When I learned that the game was created in a 48-hour game-making competition, I was impressed that there were any graphics at all.

As described in the initial instructions, above, the player begins as the editor of The Republia Times, which is pretty clearly the voice of the government’s Ministry of Media. Your task is simple enough; choose from the stories that roll through the news feed and choose how much prominence to give them in the newspaper layout at right. (See the screenshot, above.) You quickly learn from playing the game that your decisions affect the number of readers and their loyalty to the government, both of which are important to your faceless supervisors and, therefore, the well-being of you and your family.

This task is simple enough, but a more complex story of Republia soon bleeds through the game and your decisions quickly become more complicated. I won’t give away the details of the plot — the game is quick and easy (and free!) to play so try it yourself to get the full story — but just when you think you have learned to play the game, it hits you with another twist, which is a nice metaphor for life when you think about it.

The advantage that interactive media like games and simulations have over traditional media like newspapers, magazines, and television is the variety of possible user experiences. Everyone who plays The Republia Times will have a different experience. Some will quickly deduce the effect their editorial choices have whereas others won’t make the connection as easily. Different players will choose different sides and follow their own path to the end. And because the game is replayable, players can try different strategies and make different choices each time they play to test different strategies and hypotheses to explore the entirety of the game. All of this can add another layer of interest to classroom discussions.

I haven’t yet used this game with students in a classroom, but I would like to. Although government manipulation of the press could be a sensitive topic for some international students, this game is based in a clearly fictional country, which can make the topic abstract enough to make conversations more comfortable than, say, news articles about specific countries that students may have personal ties to. Additionally, the game and story are ripe for discussions like What is the author of the game is trying to communicate? Where does he stand on the issues described in the game? and What can you learn from this game, if anything?

The Republia Times is a good, quick, and free introduction to serious or art games. For a deeper dive into the genre, consider some of Lucas Pope’s other games: 6 Degrees of Sabotage (free), a game that explores the concept of six degrees of separation; The Sea Has No Claim (free), like Minesweeper but with more varied and limited resources; and Papers, Please ($9.99), a dystopian document thriller (watch the trailer here). Just because these games are serious, doesn’t mean they aren’t fun ways to begin some challenging conversations.

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4 responses to “Serious Games by Lucas Pope

  1. Thanks so much for the post. I have been looking for some free serious games and will definitely try out the ones you have listed. In the past I have suggested Third World Farmer, Against All Odds, The Curfew, Budget Hero, The Garbage Game, and Trace Effects for my students who all all future ESL teachers.

    • Another one you might consider is Darfur is Dying. It’s a game about surviving as a refugee. I find the game to be really difficult, both in terms of play and in terms of the seriousness of the content, which is probably appropriate.

      For me, the ultimate serious game is September 12th. Perhaps more of a simulation than a game, it comments on the War on Terror. Your only real choices in the game are where to shoot (or not shoot). I find it to be extremely frustrating, which is the whole point.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Thanks for your reply. My biggest interest right now is finding good serious games in foreign languages. Although a few of the ones you and I have seen in English also have other language versions, I’d love to find more. Any suggestions?

      • Hmm… My focus is English, which is the language of many games. (Lucky me.) What languages are you looking for? A good bet might be to do as you have done and look for games with multiple language options. One of my favorite serious games, McVideoGame is available in 9 languages, including English.

        Another approach would be to look at games in which language is not especially important. Flow, Samorost (1 or 2), and Grow Cube come to mind. I’ve had students work through these in English, but that could work in another target language as well.

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