In our project we work to uncover how persuasive games work and whether or not they effectively communicate what they set out to do. While our project focuses on working with our industry partners on existing and new games, we have also analyzed what persuasive games are currently available. We have tried to find games that fit our definition of a persuasive game (i.e. it was primarily made to change one or more attitudes in its players), were available to play without installation files and were in the English language. Check out the links below to see (and play) these games.
Founded by Ian Bogost (writer of the book Persuasive Games, 2007) and Gerard Lafond, this website hosts 25 games that range in topic from political campaigning to airport security. Although it is no longer updated regularly, it still offers very interesting examples of games that focus heavily on procedural rhetoric.
Molleindustria develops controversial games that subvert not only established ideas but also videogame genre practices. After starting in 2003, Molleindustria has self-published a small number of persuasive games that consistently offer their messages in highly polished packages that are sometimes surprisingly addictive.
The developers behind Game the News ‘game-hack short, playable experiences to make you smile or think from news & current affairs’. While the games could certainly make you think, not all of them seem to be made to make you smile. Headlined by Endgame: Syria, the games on this site alternate between light-hearted satire and ethical reflections on real-world issues.
The Jennifer Ann Group holds yearly challenges open to any and all to design browser-based games that deal with the topic of teen dating violence. It’s worth checking out the yearly winners and runners up just to see how many different kinds of gameplay can serve to spread this single message. The only limitation the challenge creators place on the gameplay is telling: players should not perform violent acts. Power and Control (which placed third in 2011’s challenge) deserves special mention for exploring the tactility of mouse-overs in an uncomfortably personal abusive setting.
PETA’s websites are home to some choice persuasive games. PETA’s Pokémon Parody Game, J. Lo, Monster in Fur and Seal Slalom are just a few of the examples. While in a lot of cases they are simply reskinned versions of popular entertainment games like Nintendo’s Pokémon or Mario franchises that are saturated with text and dialogue arguing for PETA’s cause, their sheer volume shows PETA’s dedication to persuading their audiences through games.
A quirky retooling of the classic Atari game Breakout, Quit Smoking tasks players with destroying a set of lungs by batting a puff of smoke into them with a cigarette. Quit Smoking underlines how very small changes to existing games can imbue them with salient messages.
Players take on the role of a Darfurian refugee in this multi-stage strategy game that is part management sim, part action. Often cited in academic and popular articles, this is an essential play for anyone exploring persuasive games.
Survive125 is a choice-based narrative that forces players to choose between amenities people in Western countries can take for granted, such as safe drinking water or being educated. While it’s not hard to ‘survive’ the 30 day period described in the game, the choices made inevitably reflect the vagaries of life below the poverty line.
Exploring the topic of poverty from a very different angle (and we refer to more than its third-person viewpoint here), Poverty Is Not a Game (PING) casts the player into the shoes of a young individual who has lost hearth and home to end up on the streets of a Belgian city. Although it is not a difficult game, it instils players with the hope that with hard work and plenty of legwork anyone can find their feet in the Western world.
Ayiti is one of the few persuasive games for which walkthrough guides have been posted online. It’s an unforgiving and harsh game that uses bright colors and cheery animation to disguise the fact that in most instances, the family that is placed under your charge will suffer horribly from your desperate managerial decisions. If seeing your family slowly be replaced by 5 cutesy tombstones does not convince you that life is cruel, it is unlikely anything will.
A game that somehow empathizes players to the cause of the modern-day piracy while simultaneously equating their way of working to that of an unscrupulous corporation, Cutthroat Capitalism does not represent the views of victims of such acts. Distanced in this way from the poverty and bloodshed, the desperation it hits players with is enough to show that any way to make money can be turned into a strategy game.
Having been on the receiving end of misogynistic abuse and threats to her life in part of what has later become known as GamerGate, it is easy to overlook the contribution Zoe Quinn has made to persuasive games through her self-published title Depression Quest. The branching, text-based narrative game adds a gameplay mechanic to the choose-your-own-adventure style by limiting ways in which the protagonist can act as he or she sinks deeper into depression. By being playable online for whatever price one is willing to pay (and also for free), this game places its message above generating profits and so is a strong example of a persuasive game.
Composed of 40-odd vignettes of dealing with hormone replacement therapy, Dys4ia tells an endearing and personal story of what is surely a very confusing time for transgender individuals. What it lacks in player agency it makes up for in the idiosyncrasy of its viewpoint on this issue.
Lucas Pope made The Sea Has No Claim during Ludum Dare’s 29th competition and slightly refined it afterwards. A strategy game made to fit LD29’s theme of ‘Beneath The Surface’, it refers in all but name to the futile search for the MH370 Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing less than two months earlier. By scaling up the search area each level and introducing multiple detection methods, it shows players the sheer scope required in finding a downed plane out at sea while still wanting to ensure players can actually do so.
Enercities is not the only persuasive game available about energy policies (see for example PersuasiveGames’ Windfall and GameTheNews’ Coconut Sunshine), but it is perhaps the best known example. In this game, players explore alternatives to traditional energy sources in their effort to balance financial, popular as well as environmental concerns. Although its design and programming saw it used as an exercise in finding usability problems during the Interdisciplinarity in Games & Play summer school in Utrecht (see elsewhere on this site), it still serves as a digital pamphlet about ecologically friendly ways of generating power.