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Gaming as a force for good

Gaming as a force for good May 15, 2014Leave a comment

After the fatal stabbing of Leeds schoolteacher Ann Maguire, the Daily Mail ran a headline highlighting their biggest cause for concern about the case: “Schoolboy, 15, accused of stabbing teacher was ‘loner’ who played online video games Dark Souls and Grand Theft Auto.”

Later, the article suggests he was mentally ill, but it was gaming that grabbed the headline. Whether or not gaming affected the schoolboy’s behaviour is impossible to tell, but what is clear is the lazy stereotyping gamers and gaming attracts when it comes to violence.

Sometimes a stereotype springs from the truth, and it certainly is true that many of the most high profile games are extremely violent; the games mentioned in the Daily Mail article being prime examples. But things are starting to change. Non-violent, non-graphic games are starting to make big industry news, and it’s the gamers themselves who are motivating their development.

I have just finished playing Broken Age, a game from independent studio Double Fine that raised over $3 million from backers on Kickstarter. It has since earned hugely positive reviews and enough revenue to develop a second part.

Why is it special? It’s a non-violent game about solving puzzles and enjoying jokes, but ultimately it’s about going on an adventure where you must do the right thing, no matter what other people tell you to do. It’s simple enough to appeal to youngsters but deep enough for adults, with the right mix of fun and thoughtfulness.

In one half, you play as Vella, a young girl who refuses her destiny to be a sacrifice to the monster who holds her village ransom. This empowering story of a young girl resisting the value society puts on her is too rarely seen in video games, but Broken Age is a really encouraging sign of where the industry is willing to go.

Broken Age also turned around the typical video game funding model and reaped the rewards. People are willing to invest in games where there is more creativity and less mindless violence, and this is great news for wider audiences – especially young people.

One of my most anticipated games this year in Hohokum, another indie title where there is no plot, no points and no gender bias. You play as a snake-like creature and simply explore worlds to enjoy the animations and music.

Gaming is too often a punch bag for taking out our incomprehension at the actions of young men. But in reality, it can be a great tool for education, exploration and relaxation, and we shouldn’t decry it until we’ve seen what good it can do – for all of us.

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About the author

Emily Wells

Emily Wells is studying for an MA in Digital Publishing at Oxford Brookes University and is working towards a career in the publishing industry. She writes about games and digital fiction at her website You can also find her on Twitter: @techpoet_org

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