Nuclear wars, immigration, and a shortage of water resources. Sounds depressing, doesn't it? Developers of online games from the Swiss Blindflug Studios have chosen to take a different approach to the disturbing challenges of the modern age: “fun” in the face of the distressing issues of our times. They presented their two latest projects in August at the GDC Conference, which took place in German city of Cologne.
Cloud Chasers is a steampunk game which is not officially launched yet, though it has already been praised at various festivals. Indie conference attendees couldn’t help noticing the developers’ commitment to turning the long-standing problem of global immigration into a successful and attractive game product. The plot is quite simple: a father and his daughter are making their way through an arid, lifeless desert to a prosperous, hi-tech city. In the course of the journey they encounter and overcome various obstacles. Whoever survives and reaches the Promised Land is a winner. However, it won’t be easy to elude such things as death along the way.
Tabea Iseli, a member of the developers’ team, explains this idea, “When we were discussing the problem of modern immigration with our friends, we came to realize that currently the media are focusing merely on the direction in which immigrants are moving, and the number of refugees. But no one tells about what happens in the course of their journey.” According to her, the game creates conditions for the user, where he encounters the hardships of being an immigrant, and if his character can’t learn how to survive, it will perish among the thousands of hills of scorching sand.
The Studio makes no secret of the fact that it hasn’t used plots which may remind gamers of real stories or places for reasons of delicacy and political correctness. The desert is featureless, and the city to which the immigrants are trying to make their way looks like something surreal and illusory. It seems that developers at Blindflug are entirely confident that their brainchild is going to spark some interest. Perhaps the idea of this project will make up for poor graphics and a weak story line.
However, despite its proclaimed humanitarian mission, the game about immigrants looks more like an attempt to render a service to the media and immigrant rights advocates rather than a real effort to entertain seasoned gamers. It begins to seem that many indie developers in their effort to find intriguing plots are creating a totally new trend in the video game industry: socially-oriented projects with hortatory content.
Another game created by Blindflug is called First Strike, and it is the predecessor of Cloud Chasers.
It is an action-strategy game set in a global thermonuclear war and its devastating aftermath. If you want to put yourself in the shoes of a malicious leader of North Korea, a radical from the Middle East or a colonel at the Pentagon, it is the very thing you need. Ironically, the developers offer gamers a chance to realize the lethal meaninglessness of using weapons of mass destruction by providing them with an opportunity to pick the type of missiles and impact points on the planet Earth. Therefore, you will get to know about the nuclear potential of Greenland and how swiftly a peace-loving Brazil can respond to your threats (according to players’ feedbacks, it is a rather quick response). First Strike is not the first game about how to destroy an adversary with nuclear weapons. Its predecessor, DEFCON, already has a number of dedicated fans around the world.
Although the Swiss Studio intended to place First Strike in an educational context, more specifically to show the dire consequences of having nuclear capabilities and the ability to use them, the gaming passion is doing its job. In their feedback, users are not lamenting the real mortal threat, but instead reveal themselves to be prisoners of the game’s fascinating virtual strategy. According to the developers at Blindflug, it is very difficult to estimate all positive and negative effects that the game has on users. Perhaps such a task can be handled only by a group of sociologists or experts in psychology. However, trying to assert that First Strike is capable of convincing a player that war is just an absurdity is like calling GTA the propaganda of law-abiding behaviour.
There’s no longer any doubt that similar projects will appear in abundance in PlayStore in the very near future. Another pleasant fact is that apart from the first attempts to incorporate educational functions in games that don’t have the most dovish stories, the developers are trying not to impair the quality of their product. Such aspects as graphics and captivating story lines attract a sophisticated audience. Maybe in a few years the players will genuinely change their attitude towards global problems after they have beaten some levels in Cloud Chasers.
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