The Failings of 'Serious Games': Packaging Man

Ian Bogost has a short little note on a 'serious game' called Packaging Man, which was apparently intended 'to raise awareness about the destructive impact fast food paper packaging has on Southern forests.' Unfortunately for Dogwood Alliance, the creator, the game is a slightly retooled version of Pac-man, and the 'environmental message' seems confined to the (skippable) intro. Ian wasn't terribly impressed:

So when I received creator Dogwood Alliance's announcement I took them up on their offer to answer questions. Explain to me, I asked as nicely as I'm probably capable of, how your game, a straight port of Pac-Man with some colours changed, represents "saving forest creatures by collecting excessive packaging and recycling it?" They were kind enough to reply, citing the opening sequence and the end-of level "call to action" petition. They also pointed me to environmental blog Gristmill's mention of the game, which generally mirrors my opinion. So many missed opportunities. I may have built a reputation for taking pleasure from negative reviews of serious games, but I'd really much rather write positive ones. I just never seem to get the opportunity to do so.

As he points out, the short page on the creator's website does a much better job of informing the audience than the game, which does very little informing at all. 'If the two pages of text on a webpage offers so much more rich and subtle information than a game, then why bother with the game?' he asks. Why indeed — I've played some interesting 'serious games,' but really, a mere Pac-man clone does not a 'serious game' make. At least, not an effective one.

Packaging Man: Skip the Wrapper and the Game [Water Cooler Games]


    As one of the people in the organization that created this game, I appreciate everyone's feedback. When we came up with the idea we wanted to give people the opportunity to play something fun and learn a little bit about why they should pay closer attention to the issue of forest destruction in the Southern US. I guess I assumed everyone loves pac-man and this would be a hit, plus I have little to no development experience, but since it has always been a dream of mine I decided to give it a go. I am sorry that people do not think it is fun, but it has served the purpose of stimulating a debate. If anyone on here is an actual game developer, we would love your help in designing a better game. You can contact me at [email protected]

    PS I would love the opportunity to talk to anyone that truly believes that modern forestry is truly sustainable, that is a joke. Millions of acres are clear-cut in our region alone every year to make paper, including endangered forests and natural forests are being replaced with sterile pine plantations that are heavily managed with toxic chemicals and do not make satisfactory habitat for wildlife. If you believe everything is ok, you clearly have not experienced it for yourself. Seem my email and contact me if you would like to dialogue.

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