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Reality Games

A new generation of designers is "injecting a dose of realism" into video games, reports Todd Martens in The Los Angeles Times (2/16/14). "Games don’t have to be a happy, fun thing, " says 36-year-old video-game designer Lucas Pope. "Games once had to be entertaining, but now games are another way to talk to people." Lucas has designed a game called Papers Please, which "asks players to imagine life as an underpaid, overstressed immigration officer in an Eastern Bloc country."

A game called Cart Life, by designer Richard Hofmeier, "offers a snapshot of what it’s like to be poor in America." The game "puts players in control of various street vendors, such as … a single mom who hopes to start a coffee stand." The goal isn’t to win, because, realistically, the mom can’t win. Cart Life "has been downloaded more than 3 million times." Even bigger players, like Ubisoft Montreal, makers of "blockbusters" like Assassin’s Creed, plan to release Watch Dogs, centered on "government and corporate surveillance."

"We’re in a place where it’s OK to fiddle with people’s emotions," says Adam Boyes of Sony Computer Entertainment. "Video-games were always a way out, but nowadays we can have deeper conversations, whether it’s around the NSA or our relationships with our parents." Game developers also see such games as a way to expand the market beyond its traditional base of young males, and win broader "appeal across age, gender lines in the same way that blockbuster films of top-rated TV shows have."