Water Cooler Games served as the web's primary forum for "videogames with an agenda" — coverage of the uses of video games in advertising, politics, education, and other everyday activities, outside the sphere of entertainment.
The site was maintained at watercoolergames.org
from 2003-2009, where it was edited by myself and Gonzalo Frasca
. It is now archived here in full.
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Slate just published an article by Justin Peters about games that teach, cleverly titled World of Borecraft. It's a thoughtful article that basically calls the whole concept of educational games out on the carpet, from Mavis Beacon through Serious Games. Persuasive Games' work is called out along with the others, subject to a number of fair criticisms that Peters summarizes as, "In taking the fun out of video games, companies like Persuasive make them less alluring to people who love games and more alluring to people who don't." We get to bear the dubious label of antihero among this motley crew of crippled creators. I mean, this is almost worth framing: "Compared with the video-gamelike widgets that other companies are peddling, [Persuasive Games' Cold Stone Creamery:] Stone City is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City." And best of all, we got mocked in our very own magazine illustration (at top right)! I feel weirdly honored.
Sneerish half-compliments aside, I do want to respond to Peters' main gripe.
Essentially it boils down to this: most educational or "serious" games don't take advantage of the full power of the videogame medium. In his words,
Civilization is goal-driven, instructional without being unctuous, and fun without being mindless. It's a considerable accomplishment, and one that the socially conscious game developers would do well to emulate.
I won't say that Peters is wrong here, but the problem is assuming that all games of this kind should be of the type and complexity of Civ, or that they should require the engagement of it. Admittedly, I do have a reputation for being interested in boredom and monotony as a theme in games. Many of our games have queues, for example. But Peters complains about Food Import Folly partly because he was perhaps ill-tuned to the kind of gaming experience we are trying to create with a game like that. To be sure, it's not a perfect game, but it also represents the polar opposite of Civ in terms of player experience. I tried to make an argument for this kind of expansion of the medium in an article on boring games, and I'd apply the same thinking to the issues Peters raises. In short, the idea of making games more alluring to people who don't love games is actually something of a noble goal, in my mind, especially as those who do love games become ever more narrow-minded about what a game experience needs to be.