From Madoff to Sully, news events inspire video games
When Navy snipers rescued an American cargo-ship captain last month from Somali pirates, it sounded like something from a movie.
But in today’s instant-gratification culture, there’s no need to wait for Hollywood to re-enact that dramatic high-seas story. Video game developers are already on the case.
Online gaming site Games2Win launched “Saving Captain Phillips,” a simple, two-dimensional shooting game, within nine days of the actual rescue. Not to be outdone, Kuma Games followed soon afterwards with “Somali Showdown: Pirates on the High Seas,” a PC multiplayer action game that puts players in the middle of a pirate attack on a cargo ship—and even lets them become one of the pirates.
These are just several of many online and cell-phone games based on recent news events. “Hero on the Hudson,” a primitive Flash game, lets people pretend they’re pilot Chesley Sullenberger and navigate a plummeting airliner to a safe water landing. A successful attempt brings applause, while a botched landing results in a sinking plane, accompanied by ominous gurgling sounds.
“Baseball Juiced,” launched last month with a social message and already played 1.4 million times online, forces batters to pick between using steroids or working out in a gym. In “Swinefighter,” gamers seek to save the world from the spread of swine flu. And “Trillion Dollar Bailout” lets players try to boost the economy by awarding government cash to shady corporate fat-cats or struggling homeowners (well, duh).
Such topical, and satirical, games speak to our need for a light-hearted break from serious news, said DigitalTrends.com publisher Scott Steinberg.
“So many events in the news are devastating,” he said. “These games are a fun escape. They’re good for a laugh, and nobody gets hurt—unlike in the real world.”
The idea to publish games based on news events was inspired in part by the success of viral videos such as JibJab’s “This Land,” an animated online parody that became an instant sensation during the 2004 presidential election season, said David Williams, who heads up the Nickelodeon Kids and Family Games Group.
“It went around the world like wildfire,” said Williams, whose group runs Addicting Games, a teen gaming site that he said had 11.7 million unique users last month. The success of “This Land” signaled that people who got a kick from watching a topical video spoof online might just as easily spend a few minutes playing a similar game.
Some early examples included “Cheney’s Fury,” inspired by the former U.S. vice president’s 2006 hunting mishap, and the “Zidane Head Butt Game,” which invited players to relive the startling 2006 World Cup moment in which French soccer player Zinedine Zidane went after an Italian player head first.
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All the world’s a videogame stage. . .