Game designers aim for Nobel Peace Prize

At the Game Developers Conference, three top developers share concepts that aspire to bring world peace. Photos: Game Design Challenge 2006

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Winning a Nobel Peace Prize may seem like a stretch for a video game developer, but on Thursday three leading designers attempted to show that it's possible.

In the third-annual Game Design Challenge, put on by GameLab CEO Eric Zimmerman at the Game Developers Conference here, "Katamari Damacy" creator Keita Takahashi, Epic Games lead designer Cliff Bleszinski and "Deus Ex" lead designer Harvey Smith presented game concepts that they each believed could win the coveted peace prize.

Photos: Game Design Challenge

The annual challenge--which in its two previous incarnations was won by legendary game designer Will Wright, creator of "The Sims"--isn't about building an actual game. Rather, it is about designing a fleshed-out concept for a game that could conceivably be developed and published.

Last year, Zimmerman tasked the competitors with designing a game built on the poetry of Emily Dickinson. In 2004, the challenge was to create a game about love.

Zimmerman told the crowd that his yearly theme is based on a hot topic in the game industry. Thus, last year's theme came from persistent buzz about game titles built on licenses of other material, such as films. The theme in 2004 came from chatter about narrative interactivity.

"The goal of the Game Design Challenge is to think about what it means to wrestle with complex game design challenges," Zimmerman told the packed ballroom. "Why was (the Nobel Peace prize concept) selected this year? Because there is a lot of talk about serious games, those games that are not just for entertaining but for some function other than entertainment and pure fun."

Because Wright had won the two previous years, he wasn't a competitor this year.

"Will begged me to free him from the clutches of the Game Design Challenge, which I did," Zimmerman said. "But until we reach the end of the session today, (he's) still the reigning ruler."

At that point, to tremendous laughter, Zimmerman called Wright on stage and placed a tiara on his head, then turned the floor over to the competitors.

First up was Harvey, who began his presentation by explaining that the inspiration for his concept was two game mods. One, called "Escape from Woomera," was about the Australian government holding noncitizens prisoner. The other, about Japanese interned in the U.S. during World War II, was called "Beyond Manzanar."

Harvey's proposed game was based on --a crowd of people that assembles suddenly in a public place, doing something unusual or notable, and then disperses.

He explained that in his "Peace Bomb" game concept--a multiplayer game for the Nintendo DS handheld device--play would evolve from the digital to the real world.

"The game creates flash mobs in the real world," said Smith. "After pooling together and trading resources, players can win on a quarterly basis, or every six months or whatever, and (the) flash mob erupts around a socially constructive movement."

He said players would have to form social networks and exchange resources virtually to work toward their goals.

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