If you've played Persuasive Games' past titles such as Bacteria Salad, Oil God, or Airport Security, chances are you'll get the idea behind its latest Flash diversion, Xtreme Xmas Shopping. On the surface, you play a shopper with a demanding wish list to satisfy. If an item on your list runs out of stock before you can purchase it, you lose, presumably having ruined Christmas. As with most of Persuasive Games' titles, though, Xtreme Xmas Shopping attempts to engage players in thinking about a broader social issue--in this case, rabid holiday consumerism--in a participatory kind of way.
While Persuasive Games doesn't have a lock on making socially conscious games (sometimes referred to as "news games," or "serious games"), one of its founders, Dr. Ian Bogost, is a widely known game theorist (widely known in game-theorist circles, at least), and his involvement gives Persuasive Games' titles a special pedigree. His book Unit Operations: An Approach to Video Game Criticism presents a novel, if dense, take on writing about video games by blending the touchy-feely approach of humanist critics with the systematic thinking of a programmer. We've found that the mechanics of Persuasive Games' titles lend themselves very well to Bogost's approach to game criticism, as they usually rely on a breakdown of a system (holiday supply-and-demand, airport security lines) to make their cultural commentary.