Games aren't just playful — they let players inhabit characters, visit unfamiliar places or practice problem-solving within complicated systems.
This means they're sometimes good tools to teach people about experiences, political systems and global conflicts, even tragic and ongoing ones.
The BBC has created a game about the routes and decisions available to refugees fleeing Syria for Europe. Syrian Journey, it says, is based on the organization's "extensive research" into the reality of the conflict — it's part of a BBC Arabic digital project exploring migration from Syria.
It seems easy to understand that interactive experiences can offer audiences intuitive and modern ways to study the news — try Syrian Journey, a simple visual experience that lets you make simple choices in your web browser, for yourself to see how it works. But in your regular reminder that traditional media thinks all games are commercial glee-fests (and that right-wing papers will take any opportunity to quash empathy for others' suffering), The Sun and The Daily Mail are apparently freaking out that someone would make a game about Syria.
My colleague at the Guardian, Keith Stuart (who sometimes hires me to do games articles there too) has just done an important editorial for the skeptics, about games' role in the modern media landscape and why they aim to be crucial teaching tools for the quiz-happy Buzzfeed generation. Among others, he speaks to journalist Janet Jones:
"My children expect media to be interactive. I watch what they get from Buzzfeed, which is now investing in deeper investigative journalism, and I understand that interactivity is who they are, it's how they engage with the world. My ten-year-old has probably never watched television – I expect a lot of children are the same. We can't put this genie back in the bottle, we can't make them interact with media in the way that I did."
Jones is now working on establishing the sorts of codes of conduct that will be needed as games emerge as a stable and conventional news medium. There will be outrages and mistakes on the way, as there have always been when new media channels have sought to tell us about the world, but there will also be new possibilities.
Bookmark Keith's editorial for the next time you encounter someone who understands that games aren't always just for zoning out on public transit or satisfying high-end power fantasies.