Fuck Advergaming. Seriously. And, to quote Ian Bogost, "Gamification is Bullshit."
There is a growing movement of corporations not content with the fact that the gaming industry is already dominated by a tiny cabal of capitalists in terms of production and distribution. Since Coca-Cola made "Pepsi Invaders" in 1983, our amusement has been increasingly functionalized to serve the needs of the mind-numbing, world-gouging corporations, by and for the 1%. This includes in-game ad placement, how Farmville binds people to Zuckerberg's privacy-indifferent monopoly, and dozens of other unconsciencable wastes of PLAY.
To stage Occupations in game-worlds is the opposite of advergaming, not only because it opposes the corporations who make advergames, but because the 99% movement is the opposite of escapism. We must make the games that keep people informed, equipped, excited, and fighting for a world that is itself playful and open.
Fact Based Training Edit
1) Get facts. 2) Place in game. 3) ???? 4) PROPHET!
The most common form of "serious game" remains the fact-game. The simplest forms of this, of course, are quiz-games, and quiz-integrated-games. Vote For Bush: the game, is a terrible, neo-liberal version, and a reminder of all the heavy-handed crappiness that fact-games can lead to. No matter how fun the old Carmen Sandiego games occasionally were, facts are dull, even if we need them badly. And we don't need to hit potential activists over the head with dull things.
Somewhat more interesting are games that use the facts they hope to spread to build a world that illustrates them. Religious games sometimes do this in ways worth noting (and sometimes in ways worth nothing). The Left Behind Game (there is only one, released three times), made by and for Evangelical Christians convinced they are being persecuted, breaks up informative splash screens with a game in which players can enjoy a simulation of persecution. At one point you spend four levels nurturing a new minister only to have him unavoidably attacked by Antichristians who look like UN Peacekeepers: "IT WAS AN AMBUSH!" A little more interesting than quiz games, but still heavy handed, boring and only personally reorienting.
Recent years have seen some wonderful anti-corporate and labor-positive messages integrated into indie-games and art-games. Stacking, for instance, made a struggle against child labor in the 1920s into a hillarious and beautiful romp. World of Goo, mostly remembered for its gorgeous art and ambitious two-man dev team, included a surprising critique of environmental degradation by corporations, and the physics fun [SPOILER?] ends up being a hillarious story of hacktivism.
Fact-games are a great place to begin thinking about how the games of the 99% might look. For instance, the series of 41 charts released by Business Insider recently, or the simple evocative infographics that Occupy George is getting onto dollar bills, both explaining the state of wealth inequality in the US, contain information that needs to circulate widely, and if a game could get people talking about these facts that would be a great help. But learning facts is not enough. It is also possible that any fact-game will leave people smugly informed, content to sit at home, now better informed about the state of things. How can we mobilize facts toward mobilizing gamers?
Procedural Rhetoric Edit
Let's start inside the head. There are some games, that instead of teaching facts, try to teach players new ways to think. This, for now, is the other thing people tend to mean by "art-game" (besides "games that are pretty). Depict1, for instance, sets the player against a narrator who they cannot trust. In playing, the player must become a little more creative and savvy. Some excellent political games, like September 12th have used this potential to make people rethink what we mean by "terrorism" and "defense." It is a good start.
But thinking-skills are not the only ones we can gain while gaming. Excercise games, whether effective or not, get bodies moving and teach skills that stick around when the game is off. Whether dancing games can teach people to dance remains an open question, however. For now the Cooking Mama games are mostly fact-based games (recipes), because their chopping motions are as unlike chopping as Wii tennis is unlike tennis, but this may change with time. But the team-building and facilitation skills people gain in MMOs could be carried outside of the game, and we do not yet know how multiplayer mobile gaming can teach people to configure themselves in space, but this may be exactly what the hundreds in Liberty Plaza with smartphones need.
Activist Games EditAnd then there are games that empower the player to change the world, as well as change themselves, during the act of play. This is the radical edge of political gaming, and there are too few examples. But it is possible, and this is the direction that the Occupation of all Game Worlds must take if these games are to add energy and resources to the 99% movement rather than letting people think they can do their protest from home, all by themselves.
Consider http://freerice.com/. The website, run by the United Nations World Food Programme, invites players to do a simple vocabulary quiz, but as one plays, points convert to real rice being donated to places around the world that need it. The game, then is neither "fact based" (it does not teach about hunger), nor even a "procedural rhetoric" (it does not imitate and teach the process of distributing food. For these, see the incredibly problematic "Missionary Game"). It is like a dance-a-thon. Sponsors have agreed to donate a fixed amount for every successful move, allowing players to change things by playing.
But better still is possible. Consider also, fold.it. The program "Folding At Home," out of Stanford, had allowed players to donate the idle cycles of their PCs and PS3s to solve complex problems of protein folding. This one was not much different than various other projects that had used a distributed network of computers idling to look for extra-terrestrial life, map the milky way, or any number of nice things. It was pretty, but it was not a game. Fold It added the ability for players to add their own creativity to the algorithmic search for protein patterns. And it works. Human creativity is a wild thing, and there have already been problems solved by gamers rather than algorithms. How this sort of wild, distributed problem solving can be deployed in support of the 99% is not yet clear. But we will see soon.