Can games communicate serious messages?

Shannon Forbes - Digifianz Marketing Analyst

Written by Shannon Forbes - Digifianz Marketing Analyst

 On 6/13/19 2:00 PM


When you think of video games your mind may go to the likes of Candy Crush or Crash Bandicoot.  You might not generally associate video games with serious topics, such as mental illness or debt.  Yet games can be engaging without being light-hearted or even necessarily being “fun.”  Though this may sound counter-intuitive, creative games have been designed to communicate about a host of serious topics.


Video games are versatile

Games don’t just have to entertain - they can also convey serious messages.  Their interactive format makes them the perfect tool to draw in players and engage them on serious or even uncomfortable topics.

Using games as a means of communication is more effective than traditional forms of marketing or PSAs because the player is invested in carrying out the game’s mission.  

The game aspect also makes the message more compelling and easier to digest.  The player experiences the issue in a much more powerful way when they put on a character’s “shoes” and face the subject first-hand.

Killer Flu

One such example is the game, Killer Flu, created by Persuasive Games.  The game takes a serious topic that was creating a fair amount of concern, and even panic, and educates the public about how pandemic flus actually mutate and spread.  Ingeniously, the player takes on the role of the flu itself and must work to mutate and infect people and animals.


A Closed World

This is another game that focuses on a serious - and in this case - sensitive, topic: the challenges faced by LGBTQ youth.  This may seem like a difficult topic to turn into a game, but the developers at Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab came up with a creative and effective solution.  The player takes control of a character of ambiguous gender and deals with “demons” in a forest who try to force their values on the character.  The player must fight back and defy their ideas of what’s “normal” and what love is supposed to look like.

Screenshot 2019-06-12 at 5.19.10 PM

Super Mario BP Oil Spill

This game combines the classic fun of Super Mario Bros with a timely environmental issue: the BP oil spill.  In the game, BP is drilling in Mario Land and their oil rig started to leak!  Mario can save the environment by plugging the leaking pipes with fish that have already died from exposure to the oil.    To further the critique of BP, the game includes bombs, evil scuba divers, and even submarines sent by BP to thwart Mario.

The game came out in December 2010, a little over six months after the infamous oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico in April of that year.   It is considered to be the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry and was finally contained in September 2010.


This game is both fun and an effective means of educating players about a very serious event.  It has the classic Mario Bros feel, yet the subliminal message is powerful: try to stop the evil corporation that doesn’t care about the environment - or you!  In the game, the company would rather kill you than have you get involved in stopping the oil leak.


Advertising games for serious industries 

Advergames, or advertising games, are an extremely effective means of promoting your business, even if you’re in a serious industry such as medical, banks, or insurance.  Games allow you to educate and communicate about serious topics in an unexpected and appealing way.

According to mathematician Keith Devlin: “Game-based learning is the future. Games are just simulators with an internal incentive structure (often dopamine based). That means they tap into the way humans, and all living creatures, are hard-wired to learn: by doing.”  You don’t have to tell consumers that your mission matters - you can convince them by allowing them to experience the issue themselves through a game.

Even in serious businesses, games can be utilized to spread the message about your brand and mission in a respectful and appropriate manner.  The right advergame won’t make your brand look silly, rather, it can be a useful tool for attracting, and even educating, your consumers.