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The Salvation Army and games for board members

Today, the Salvation Army released a game, playable in your web browser, to tie in with their Red Shield Appeal.

This is how John Herring, direct marketing director at the Salvation Army Australia, spoke about the need for the game in an article at B&T:

“Gen X and Y has always been elusive for us as they tend to lean more towards the latest environmental cause or celebrity-endorsed charity.

“The challenge was getting their attention to let them know of the work we do and the people whose lives we help improve”.

The result is a platformer-style game where players use a Mario-like character (with mustache, overalls and hat) to interact with ‘depression’ themed items, such as giving sad (black) dogs bones, opening locked doors with keys, and avoiding pounding boxing gloves. At the end of each level, the game provides a ‘Donate Today’ button. There is a small box at the bottom of the game which provides snippets of text advertising Salvation Army activities.

This deeply average advergame suggests an organisation neither understanding videogames nor their targeted markets. It is not a very good game, and it does not seem very effective in engaging the player about the Salvation Army.

It reeks of talking down to younger generations—Herring’s statement above suggests that ‘Gen X and Y’ are so distracted by triflings (such as the ‘latest environmental cause’) that they’ve had to make a videogame to reengage with them. It speaks to all sorts of generalisations about younger generations, as attention-less, distracted technophiles who aren’t as engaged in communities as their parents were.

“By putting the message in a visual context, one that they can relate to, we can communicate in a fun way how the Salvos help people on a day-to-day level—and that understanding is just as important as the physical donation itself,” said Luke Brown, the managing director of Affinity Partnership, the firm that made the game, in an interview with Computerworld.

“Our team picked up on the trend of gamification, and more and more corporates are starting to look into it,” Brown continued.

The use of the word ‘gamification’ here is telling. This Salvation Army game is not an example of gamification at all (“the use of game design elements in non-game contextsis the useful definition of Sebastian Deterding, one of the best researchers in the area). What it is, is old-fashioned advertising that happens to use a videogame.

Indeed, it is seemingly a game designed to satisfy board executives, not Generation X or Y. It is not the first, and it will not be the last.

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  • 1
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Given the amount of game developers struggling to find work in Australia, it’s disappointing the Salvo’s chose to spend their money with an adverting company.

    I can think of loads of places who’d develop much more compelling games, ones which would connect with a Gen X/Y audience, even within the limited budget the Salvo’s had to spend here.

  • 2
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    As a member of Gen Y (apparently I fit in here) I have to say, waving a video game at us because it’s a medium we “can relate to” is like assuming we can’t see the world outside of video games. While I enjoy video games, I’d prefer to play them for fun. Not to get a faceful of corporate messaging. Surely there was a young person in their marketing team who could’ve pointed out a better way to reach people?

    Also, we only respond to celebrity-endorsed charities? Eesh.

    Anyway, love this blog!

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