“Hush” wins First Better Game Contest

The jury of the Better Game Contest (http://www.bettergamecontest.org) has made its decision, and the winners of the contest are Jamie Antonisse, Chris Baily, Devon Johnson, Joey Orton, and Brittany Pirello!

Their game, Hush, is a unique, and personal exploration of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. “Games typically immerse their players in fantasies of ‘empowerment’, but we thought that, in this case, it would be important for the player to experience the life of a ‘disempowered’ person,” says Antonisse.

The Better Game Contest is supported by researchers on the Values at
Play Project (VAP). The goal of VAP is to make available to students, budding game designers, and seasoned game design professionals new ways of considering human values in the game design process. BetterGameContest.org aims to showcase those games that not only address social issues, but do so by highlighting particular human values in their content, interaction choices, and game goals.

Contest jurors included Katie Salen, founder of the Institute of Play, New York; Jesper Juul, independent game scholar; & Suzanne Seggerman, President of Games 4 Change.

The jury applauded the Hush’s innovative play style, and successful merging of mechanic and message. In Hush, players assume the role of a mother in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994. Players must remain calm as they soothe their crying baby to avoid detection by militants. With its unique interaction style, profoundly simple graphics and immersive experience, Hush was the unanimous choice.

The Hush team made their game as part of USC’s Intermediate Game Design class taught by Professor Tracy Fullerton and Professor Peter Brinson. Students used the Values At Play curriculum, which encourages the conscious embedding of human values in game design. Hush emerged from a brainstorming session using the Grow A Game cards, a game design tool developed by the Values At Play project.

“The idea for Hush was actually born out of a Values At Play exercise,” says Antonisse. “We had to create a game from a randomly chosen game mechanic and game theme, and we drew “Singing” and “Human Rights”. The contrast between these two cards posed a challenge and yielded many unconventional ideas, including the core concept for Hush.

One of the things that attracted us to the concept is that the player isn’t viewing this horrific event from a distance and attempting to ‘solve the problem’; rather, players are immersed in the moment, experiencing the terror of a Hutu raid. It’s also important that even though the player is not in a position of power, the player still has the noble goal of saving a child.”

The game will now be featured in the valuesatplay.org game repository, and all members of the winning team will receive Apple iPhones.

For the next year and a half, the Values at Play team will continue their research into human values in games through funding from the National Science Foundation. The team runs workshops, conducts research, and publishes results (papers, tools, videos, game designs, and actual games) on how game designers both unconsciously and consciously imbue their products with specific worldviews and values. One of its key goals is to provide tools for the design community to assist in the systematic discovery and implementation of values in their work.

The Better Games Contest Series is an opportunity to see the ideas of Values At Play in practice and recognize outstanding values-focused game designers. The second Better Game Contest began in February 2008, and its submission deadline is July 1, 2008. See http://www.valuesatplay.org or bettergamecontest.org for more information.

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