Serious games are nonetheless seriously addictive

Posted by: Helen Walters on January 14, 2008

A couple of things have been taking up way too much of my time of late. First up, there’s FreeRice. Your only task here is to pick the correct definition of a word. Every time you get a word right, FreeRice (affiliated with poverty.com) donates 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. On January 13, 109,129,760 grains of rice were donated; the latest overall figure is 14,165,837,150. I’m not sure how many grains of rice make a bowl, but this is a site that caters to both the selfish gene (by challenging my brain and improving my vocabulary) and the selfless one (by allowing me to in some small way help the world). Plenty of sites have taken the same tack in the past — I remember one from years ago whereby you clicked a ‘give’ button once a day and the site donated money to charity. But this iteration of the idea adds entertainment, education and interaction, which makes it a much more compelling use of the medium.

Then there’s LaunchBall, which has a less philanthropic outlook, but which still aims to educate me (well, and its target market of 8-14 year old children) — in the field of physics. Created by London new media firm, Preloaded, for the prestigious Science Museum in London, this Flash game has a neat social/community aspect too, which allows players to create and share level designs of their own. Rob Corradi of Preloaded tells me they’ve had 1,166,129 unique users since November, with 1,046,451 levels created by 67,745 users. That’s pretty impressive.

The game itself is pretty simple in scope: “all” you have to do is negotiate a ball to a goal. To do this, you must use a set of pre-determined “blocks” — representing phenomena such as gravity, wind, light, or electricity — and you can’t help but learn some basic scientific principles along the way. It’s beautifully done, visually rich and simple (check out the screen grabs after the jump), with thoughtful use of sound making for a really compelling experience.

At the end of last year, Preloaded projected the game onto the side of the Shell building in London, which didn’t really serve much of a purpose other than looking cool but made quite a spectacle. Have a look at the Flickr slideshow here.

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What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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