Social Issue Games Get Older People Playing

    by Sandra Ekong
    October 8, 2008

    Yesterday during my bi-weekly “sarah palin” “snl” google search, I stumbled upon The Political Machine Express, a downloadable version of the popular PC game The Political Machine 2008 in which, “players take on the role of campaign manager for a US Presidential candidate.” Having closely followed this year’s presidential campaign melodrama, I was itching to play.

    The Political Machine leads the surge of educational, social issue games targeted toward anyone older than young adult. Its particular appeal lies in its focus on one of the most prominent, interesting and hot social issues now: the US presidential campaign. I (the target user) couldn’t wait to play because the game offered me the chance to get involved, to stand in the shoes of one of the characters I read about in the paper every day.

    In an earlier post, I mentioned that one of the objectives of the Beanstockd-Idea Lab blog is to determine key elements that make a digital multiplayer game appealing and entertaining, and to apply them to the Beanstockd concept. We built the Beanstockd Game to test a new approach to motivating pro-environmental behavioral change. What we’ve developed is a social issue game that seeks to do more than educate— the Beanstockd Game drives players to act upon the knowledge they’ve gained.


    There’s a lot we can learn from social issue games like the Political Machine, or Superstruct, “a massively multiplayer forecasting game” which allows a community of players to collaborate and form a vision of the world in 2019 based on current social conditions. It is clear that these innovative games attract players because of their focus on extremely salient issues; but it’s what gets people to stick around that really interests us.

    Last week we spoke with Elan Lee, founder of Fourth Wall Studios and the Alternate Reality Game sensation I Love Bees, and picked his brain about creating a game that’s not only entertaining, but also compelling to players over an extended period of time. We found that ARGs like I Love Bees are engrossing because they tell a story- players advance to the next chapter by piecing together clues, driven by the mystery of the game. This type of game relies on the creativity and curiosity of players. Superstruct also falls into this “story “ category, as players collaborate to imagine and tell the story of the world in 2019.

    Which brings us to another point important point – the relationship between players. In multiplayer games, there’s nothing more entertaining to a game player than other players. The relationship between players is either amicable or antagonistic: they either collaborate or compete; a relationship which keeps players invested in the game.
    The Political Machine allows players to compete online with other players, providing another reason for a player to stay engaged beyond interest in the specific social issue.


    Elan suggested we make competition key to our game, validating our hunch that in order to drive players to make the behavioral changes necessary to gain points they’d need more incentive than a prize or interest in green lifestyle; that incentive is competition.

    We believe that competition can provide adequate incentive to stimulate behavioral change through the Beanstockd Game. In our next blog post, Angela will elaborate on why the green competition formula works best for our concept.

    So now we can answer my question: If you’re too old for Oregon Trail, why would you play an educational computer game? And, why would you play for an extended period of time? The new wave of social issue games gives us some answers, revealing the following gaming incentives that we can apply to our concept:

    – Relevant, interesting and appealing issues
    – Mystery that must be solved
    – Ability to collaborate and create with other players
    – Ability to compete with other players

    Tagged: Beanstockd social Issue games the political machine uperstruct

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