I’ve been thinking more about “Airport Security”. Maybe I’m being unfair and judging it by the wrong criteria: given the off-the-scale absurdity, maybe it would be most reasonable to regard it as a kind of interactive editorial cartoon, rather than as an interactive argument.
I might put Persuasive Games’ Disaffected into a similar category: it’s a frustrating game to play, in a way that pokes fun of the frustrations of a copy shop in real life, without actually emulating the system at work in any depth. And their Presidential Pong goes even further, with the game-play almost entirely separate from the political content, which is expressed chiefly in editorial-cartoon format. (The “special powers” of each candidate are cute, but some of them work better than others, both as political comment and as powers within the game.)
Is there a single axis here, from anti-advergames and lampoons through semi-educational pieces like Electrocity into hard-core investigative or scientific simulations?
And how much do supposedly incidental aspects of the user interface determine our experience? I’m not talking about the assumptions buried in the simulation — those are necessarily ideological — but about surface qualities, like how difficult or easy various tasks are, how well optimized the game experience is, and how it uses the frustration that Grant Tavinor identifies as one of the key emotions evoked by gaming.
I’ve now played several games whose persuasive point was mostly achieved by a) annoying the heck out of the player and b) framing that annoyance as the natural result of some kind of unreasonable system — Airport Security is only one example. This may be emotionally effective, but is it rhetorically fair?
Lately I’ve played a few rounds of Electrocity, a simulation game by a New Zealand power company in which the player gets to manage the power supply for a young city. It’s designed to be played by school kids, so the interface is deliberately a bit simpler than for most sim games, but otherwise it basically works in a familiar way: you have various resources, and you can build things (mines, gas wells, airports, hydro-electric plants) and clean them up. At the end of the game, you’re scored on how well you did at building a large population, a clean environment, and a steady power supply.