Simon Fraser University


Video games reflect real life

September 08, 2006 , volume 37, no. 1

At SFU Surrey's School of interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), games are more than—well, fun and games. Games can have purpose beyond engaging in a bit of friendly competition. Some games are designed to teach skills, to replicate real-life experiences, or alter social attitudes.

HealthSimNet, for example, looks a lot like any other variation on a theme of The Sims, but instead of toying with imaginary characters in a fantasy community, HealthSimNet, as described in SFU News recently ("Games help healthcare professionals", June 15, 2006) deals with the all-too-real dramas of HIV/AIDS. Technically not a game, because there is no win/lose scenario at stake, it's a serious educational tool, designed for use by health care professionals and others who come in contact with people with AIDS.

Surviving on the mean streets of Vancouver is no game. But for community activist and West End resident Terry Lavender, a SIAT Master's candidate, the challenges he sees the homeless overcome each day were an inspiration for his Master's project, a test of wits named, aptly enough, Homeless: It's No Game.

The challenge for Lavender was to create a game that carries a social message, but is also fun to play. "Does good game play get in the way of the message, or is good game play important to getting a message across?", he asks.

In his game, the player assumes the persona of a homeless woman. In navigating everyday hurdles, such as aggressive dogs, crack addicts, or unsympathetic police officers, the object is to amass "esteem" points by managing small victories like finding empty bottles that can be exchanged for cash, or scoring a shower or a free meal.