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My Favorite Indie Games for Education

education-gaming

In June, I was fortunate to again attend the Games for Change (G4C) festival in New York. As in past years, the highlight for me was hearing indie developers talk about how their game vision was realized by conscious selection of various storytelling techniques and game mechanic decisions. Designing games is like composing music, making movies, writing novels, building houses, or painting pictures because games provide the structure for interesting things to happen. Games that I saw at this year’s festival and others, that can provoke emotions, excitement, and thought in the context of a classroom include:

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is an animated comic book puzzle game that explores the impact of World War I on its four characters: the Frenchman Emile, his German son-in-law Karl, American soldier Freddie, and Belgian nurse Anna. Additionally, Walt, a casualty dog with the German army, accompanies the characters throughout their travels, adding moments of levity to the subject matter. Set between September and April 1914, the fictional story is based on historical events and includes an impressive array of archival image pop-ups with text describing sites and artifacts of the Great War. Game mechanics are a bit trying. However, the game’s ability to connect the player emotionally to the Great War is admirable. An added bonus is the News from the Front section on the website where you can learn about the design process used by the game developers.

Availability: Uplay, Steam, PS3/4, XBOX One/360, GameStop and the App Store.

Average play time: Approximately four hours.

Languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese and Russian.

Additional WWI interactives: Apocalypse: 10 Lives and The Unknown Photographer.

Potential course use: Storytelling, narrative, game design and history with a dose of critical thinking.

1979 Revolution: Black Friday

1979 Revolution takes place during the Iranian Revolution, oscillating between the Iran of 1978 where people are protesting the Shah in the streets, and the Iran of 1980 after Ayatollah Khomeini has seized power. Playing as Reza, a photojournalist turned revolutionary, you make narrative driven decisions, assisted with archival photos and speeches, to explore the revolution’s trajectory.

Availability: Steam, Gog Galaxy, the App Store, Google Play and PC/Mac download.

Average play time: Approximately three hours.

Language: English.

Additional Iran themed interactive: The Cat and the Coup.

Potential course use: Storytelling, narrative, game design, justice studies and political science.

That Dragon, Cancer

This point and click exploration game tells the story of Joel Green, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at 12 months of age. This autobiographical game follows Joel’s journey in and out of hospitals, participating in a drug trial, receiving rounds of chemotherapy, and then finally succumbing to the cancer at the age of five. The game has received very positive reviews and won Best Emotional Indie Game at the 2016 Emotional Games Awards.

Availability: Steam, Gog Galaxy, the App Store, Google Play and PC/Mac download.

Average play time: Approximately two hours.

Language: English.

Additional health themed interactives: Cancer Game and Re-Mission 2

Potential course use: Family dynamics, grief, philosophy, religion, storytelling, narrative and game design.

The Stanley Parable
A game about a game with the player taking the role of Stanley, an office worker who always does as he’s told. Or doesn’t. One of the most cantankerous yet “laugh out loud” games I’ve EVER played.

Availability: Steam.

Average play time: Approximately four hours.

Languages: English, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Russian, French, German, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish and Ukrainian.

Potential course use: Philosophy, storytelling, narrative, and game design.

Her Story

Crime fiction game with non-linear storytelling in which the player explores video clips to discover whether a wife is involved in the disappearance of her husband.

Availability: Steam, the App Store and Google Play.

Average play time: Approximately three hours.

Language: English.

Potential course use: Critical thinking, storytelling, narrative and game design.

Republique

This dystopian action game explores government surveillance, oppression, censorship and revolution in the Internet Age. The player attempts to help Hope, a fugitive, escape the compound where she and others like her are undergoing experimentation.

Availability: Steam, the App Store, Google Play and PS4.

Average play time: Approximately three hours per episode; five episodes.

Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese.

Potential course use: Philosophy, political science, justice studies, storytelling, narrative and game design.

These games are just a start. Please contact me if you use these games in your courses or want to brainstorm how you could use these games!