While some video games have been slammed for sending negative messages to young players, there's a movement among game developers to use the medium for good, to address and educate about social issues.
Oliver Miao, CEO of Pixelberry Studios, for one, is using the medium to tackle the rising problem of cyberbullying. In partnership with Playmob and the Cybersmile Foundation, Pixelberry created cyberbullying-themed quests for its popular iOS app “High School Story.”
Miao, who himself was bullied in his youth, spoke to International Business Times about the special quests. He and his Pixelberry team came up with the themed quests in response to the increased number of news reports about cyberbullying victims. During development, Miao said, the team was contacted by a player who was planning to commit suicide. Using resources from the Suicide Prevention Hotline, Pixelberry continued to communicate with the player, who eventually sought professional help.
“That really opened our eyes to the power our game has and the effect we can have in the lives of our players,” Miao said.
This event prompted Pixelberry to seek partners for the project, leading them to Cybersmile, a charity dedicated to helping victims of cyberbullying. The partnership was facilitated through Playmob, a company that links game companies with charitable organizations.
In conjunction with the “High School Story” cyberbullying-themed quests, Pixelberry has pledged more than $100,000 to Cybersmile by matching purchases of special in-game items.
Among other recent examples of game developers bringing deep and hard-hitting subjects into the spotlight, “Papers Please” puts the player in the role of a customs officer of the totalitarian state called Arstotzka. The officer must make tough moral choices, like whether or not to let someone into the fictional country based on his or her government-issued documents and other social cues, or whether or not to pay for food or heat for your family you're attempting to support with your job. "Papers Please" was developed independently by Lucas Pope, who saw the game take off after its debut on the Steam digital distribution platform, via its Greenlight indie development program.
A particularly hard-hitting game that addresses social issues is “Spec Ops: The Line,” developed by Yager Development and released by 2k Games in 2012. "Spec Ops" turns the traditional modern military first-person shooter upside down with several outcomes based on actions taken throughout the game -- all of which critique the glorification of war through video games.
Do you think game developers will continue to use video games to address social issues? Let us know in the comments.