One of my favorite mobile games which made on the list of `Games for Change` is Alphabear.
For this exercise, I wanted to identify the values that were, as how Flanagan and Nissenbaum describes in their methodology to incorporate social activist themes, translated into the game design of Alphabear. By identifying these values in the game-play, I would be able to understand the ‘incidental lessons’ which the designers implemented into the game. The three key values I found where autonomy, creativity, and most prominently, authorship.
The original Alphabear is a solitary game, however in later additions and spin-offs it is no longer the case. You alone must solve unique word puzzles in order to progress. It does not encourage the help of other players, as there is a lack of a wiki or a structure which could help the player in each game. This is especially the case for timed puzzled where the count-down timer tests the player’s wit to find words quickly to solve the game. The player’s creativity is always engaged in the game; I was always encouraged to learn and use my creativity to advance to next level. Once you complete levels you earn new outfits, new bears, and as always viewing the cute mad-libs of the bears from the words used in the level. I would argue that word games like Alphabear engage a player’s vocabulary and authorship much more than their usual circumstances in their daily life. Since most games gave me unlimited time to plan which words to use, I would research words on my laptop and store common words to use to get out of a bind. Only when preparing this paper, did I find online tools to find words in the letter soup the game generates.
However, thanks to my cynical heart, I found that the game also promotes the objectification of animal life and living beings based on their worth to the player. Despite how adorable each bear is, they are given empirical rankings of how valuable they are by the game. Bears are sorted into Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary. Sadly, higher levels are really difficult to complete without Epic or Legendary bears, which makes common and even rare bears not as useful mid-to-late game. The message is simple, some bears are better than others. At a certain point, the bears you have simply revert to becoming digital objects, than tools to complete the game. They do not have much of a personality and are just vessels to extract value from. In Alphabear 2, the player is granted more freedom to customize their own bear avatar for self-expression, the purpose of bears in the Alphabear universe are tools to be used, not partners or friends. As for social themes, I can think of how we see the bears and animals more as objects, than living creatures, to be used and dispensed off when no longer needed, but that is bit of a reach. Really, Alphabear is a simple, fun puzzle game I like which just happened to be on the list. I wish the creators of the list would elaborate on their reason why Alphabear made the list, but it the social themes are a little entertaining to theorize.
Flanagan, Mary, and Helen Nissenbaum. “A Game Design Methodology to Incorporate Social Activist Themes.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems — CHI ’07, 2007, doi:10.1145/1240624.1240654.