While it’s not unusual to see books or movies taking plots from the headlines, hot topics now show up in unexpected places — including video games.
No longer content to produce simple shoot-’em-ups, many game developers now create video games designed to inform as well as to entertain. Some take sarcastic views on real events, like “Harpooned: Japanese Cetacean Research Simulator,” in which gamers play a Japanese scientist “researching” whales by killing them for cat food. Others focus on education, such as “PowerUp,” which requires children to use solar, wind and water power to save a fictional planet.
If socially conscious games sound heavy-handed, it’s because most of them emphasize driving home a message over gameplay. But kids aren’t likely to learn if they don’t want to play the game. Parents who want to give their kids beneficial video games should look for entertaining games that just happen to carry a social or environmental message. For example, “The Secret Saturdays: Beasts of the 5th Sun,” a game available on Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS and PSP, may not look particularly educational at first glance — it is, after all, based on a Cartoon Network show.
But when children play as members of the Saturday family, they become scientific explorers dedicated to discovering and protecting secret artifacts and mysterious creatures called Cryptids, which are based on folklore, myths and legends.
The game follows an original storyline based on the “Secret Saturdays” television series. Players must prevent the evil V.V. Argost from using Cryptids for his own gain -; an interesting parallel with the real-life exploitation of natural resources.
As players explore and solve puzzles in 10 real-world environments, the game teaches them to protect creatures’ habitats — even if those creatures are unlikely to appear in any local zoo. And the game includes enough action — traversing water hazards, flying and battling the Saturday’s enemies — to keep kids interested. After all, battling an evil villain from your favorite shows sounds like far more fun than using equations to build a virtual windmill.