While a plant’s life cycle may seem static and slow moving to the human eye, Reach for the Sun transforms the process of understanding how plants grow and photosynthesize into a dynamic and engaging experience. The player’s goal is to grow a plant across a season, span producing as many seeds as possible before winter strikes. Water, nutrients, and starch are the resources players must make use of to expand the plant into a network of roots, leaves, and flowers.
By the end of Reach for the Sun, players have learned all about photosynthesis, plant anatomy, pollination, and more. These learning processes are embedded in the game’s interface and aesthetics.
We recently reached out to Abby Friesen, game designer at Filament Games, to ask some questions about Reach for the Sun, which is nominated for Best Gameplay in the Games for Change Awards. The Filament Games team shared with us the following responses.
What motivates you to make games for social impact?
Games have the power to impact lives, and as a company, Filament wants to explore this to create games that give back to society. Educational and serious games give players chances to experience things they never would in real life and to make mistakes with no consequences. The benefits of hands-on learning are many and we believe that schools need more of this.
How long was Reach for the Sun in development?
Reach for the Sun was developed in a couple of separate sprints, where we focused on key functionality, gathered feedback, implemented feedback and features, and finally released. All told the development time was about six months, but it took place over the course of a year.
What was key for securing funding from the U.S. Department of Education? What advice do you have for other developers pursuing government grants?
I think the key to receiving funding from the Department of Education is pretty similar to any other funding organization — be prepared to have an application fail, take their feedback to heart, and then use it to improve your idea for future submission or development. If an organization sees that you’re willing to respond to their feedback, that goes a long way in showing that you take their role and responsibilities seriously, which makes you a better candidate.
How did you come up with the mechanics for the game and decide to make it resource-oriented?
From a learning objective standpoint, it’s a pretty straightforward mapping: plants wage their own resource management wars every day, prioritizing growth based on their own internal clocks and reactions to seasonal stimuli. Having the player make those decisions themselves exposes them to the system-thinking approach of understanding plant anatomy in a very intuitive and enjoyable way.
Is there a game for social impact you wish you had designed or want to design? What is it and why?
I am personally interested in games that touch on non-academic subjects that can help us be better humans. These are difficult to design for because they aren’t things you can really test in a classroom or have a right or wrong answer, but I feel they are just as important. It would be a wonderful opportunity to make games that teach how to be a better human, games that give people tools to deal with tough life situations or simply raise awareness on the taboo life topics schools don’t like to discuss.
What do you think of the current state of games for social impact?
We seem to be scraping at the tip of an iceberg. Games for social impact are just starting to make their appearances in more and more classrooms and households. We learn new things about how games teach players every day, and one day there will come a time when games are a staple in all teaching environments.
Edited by Noalee Harel, Games For Change intern.