Advisory Board Highlight: Alan’s favorite games of 2010

As the new year approached, Games for Change reached out to its advisory board members to find out what games inspired them in 2010. In the first part of this series we reached out to Alan Gershenfeld. He’s the founder and President of E-Line Media, publishers of the game making platform Gamestar Mechanic. Here are his comments around two games that really impacted him in 2010. One game was a crowd favorite, as voted by our community, the other one is a commercial title that gained a lot of recognition that year for its unique approach. Alan comments,

“I played an alpha version of The Cat and the Coup about a year ago and often think about it. The decision to explore a resonant but largely forgotten moment in history (the 1953 US-engineered coup of Iran’s Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh), the choice of a unique but evocative player avatar conceit (you play Mossadegh’s cat), the reverse-narrative (starting with the death of Massadegh and working back to his election), the slow reveal of the players role in the coup as a metaphor for our complicity (U.S. citizens) and the truly inviting and lush Persian-themed visuals make the Cat and the Coup a clear pick for me.

While one can debate the depth of gameplay (slight, but intuitive and fun) – the designers did a great job of tightly integrating the gameplay, narrative and visuals in a way that makes the game genuinely memorable. Since I believe one of the goals of the designers was to ensure that the historical event is not forgotten (we still feel blow-back from the coup to this today) and that the player develops some context for why it happened, I think the design choices were ultimately effective in accomplishing those goals. I look forward to seeing all of the major game publishers jumping in and making copycat documentary games about CIA-driven coups told as reverse narratives from the point of view of domestic pets.

Most social impact games tend to appeal more to the head than the heart. They are often heavy on strategy and resource management – and very earnest. While this works for some games, it would be great to see more games that drive a visceral, emotional reaction in the player. While Heavy Rain was not designed as a social impact game, I thought this character/narrative rich PS3 action-adventure game was both original and compelling – and had some important clues on how to build emotion, empathy and anger into an impact game.

Aside from the novelty of the opening sequence which explored new gameplay verbs such peeing, shaving and teeth brushing – the game used a wide variety of game mechanics to make the protagonist (whose shoes the player steps into) very human and, most importantly, anchored his deep love for his son. When his son is then kidnnapped the game has emotional stakes and a level of moral complexity rarely seen the action-adventure genre. Imagine if a game with this level of character development, narrative context, action-adventure gameplay was set in a searing real-world genocidal context. It would be provocative and certainly need to be handled with great care – but, if well designed, could ultimately be vey effective in raising awareness, instilling empathy, creating context and stimulating action.”

We will share more of our advisory boards picks in the coming days. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date.

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