Video Games Get Serious

Imagine playing a videogame that you win not by killing or
harming anyone, but by freeing yourself of karma and purifying your
chakras. Instead of blasting through worlds with machine guns, you
ride elephants, read the stars, meditate, and practice Ayurvedic
healing. Rather than acquiring increasingly destructive weaponry or
meaningless points, you gain clairvoyance, invisibility, or the
ability to levitate. Best of all, instead of having three lives,
your character is reincarnated.

This was the concept video game designer Allen Varney proposed
when he was recruited by a group of well-heeled recent graduates
from the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, to
create a video game that would convey Hindu principles of
nonviolence. As Varney amusingly recounts for the gaming magazine
Escapist, things didn’t turn out as
planned. The Maharishi grads just didn’t have the graphic skills to
execute their complex vision.

Others, however, are meeting with a modicum of success in their
attempts to create alternatives to shoot-’em-ups like Grand Theft
Auto. In
Greater Good, Kathy M. Newman cites
PeaceMaker as one of a growing slate of
‘serious’ games aimed at raising ‘users’ awareness of real-world
social and political issues.’ Created by a former Israeli army
captain, the game has players navigate the perils of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict as either the Israeli prime
minister or the Palestinian president and has proven an engaging
educational tool for students in the United States and

Plenty, Deborah Snoonian reports on
another game that’s tackling a seemingly intractable problem:
global warming. Adventure Ecology lets students as young as
nine tackle feats including ‘preventing deforestation, scoping
out alternative fuel strategies, or convincing a clothing
company to sell eco-friendly duds.’

Of course, these games probably won’t appeal to the young guys,
who are the industry’s bread and butter, so don’t expect them to be
lining store shelves any time soon. As serious game expert Marc
Prensky tells Greater Good, such games ‘should probably be
funded by universities or foundations and then distributed for
free.’ The games are, however, offering interesting alternatives to
those drawn to the medium but not its violent messages.

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My Hindu Shooter

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Digital Diplomacy

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