It goes without saying that HELP: The Game is all in aid of a good cause, having brought together a wide variety of developers of all shapes and sizes, including Team17, Creative Assembly, Rovio, Bossa Studios and several others, to take part in a game jam and bundle their efforts together for charity.
That charity is War Child, which was founded in 1993 in response to the humanitarian crisis in Bosnia. For over twenty years they’ve strived to bring the concerns of children affected by war to the fore.
“We are the only specialist charity for children in conflict,” Elisabeth Little, War Child’s Head of Corporate Development, explained, “delivering high-impact programmes that are rebuilding lives across Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic. We understand children’s needs, respect their rights, and put them at the centre of the solution – from supporting Syrian children to access education, to reintegrating child soldiers in the Central African Republic and enabling girls to escape life on the streets in the DRC.
“We aim to reach children early in the conflict cycle and stay to support them through their recovery, providing education and protection services and also building longer-term livelihood opportunities. We support children to deal with the traumas of armed conflict, equipping them with the skills and knowledge to go back to school, and providing training to young people so they can support themselves.”
Over the past half decade, various gaming related charities have come to the fore, with events like the Games Done Quick streams, to the 24 hour gaming marathons for Extra Life. Yet it’s unusual for charities outside of these circles to reach out with a gaming-based initiative.
It’s not the first time that War Child has worked with video games companies though, and it builds upon an existing relationship with Sports Interactive and the Football Manager series. It’s still a new idea Elisabeth said, “We wanted to do something different and innovative with gaming. As a charity we’ve always had a strong association with the music industry and In 1995 War Child released HELP: The album, in which a selection of artists recorded songs and put together the album in a week. It was then released to fundraise for War Child.
“The idea came about for HELP: The Game to replicate this model 20 years later to our new audience of the gaming community. It’s brilliant to be able to partner with others in a meaningful way that’s relevant to them – giving up their time and expertise, rather than simply writing a cheque. We also think it’s an added bonus to be able to give something back to those who support us, anyone buying the game isn’t only donating to an important cause, they are also purchasing a brilliant product that they are able to enjoy.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing from a game design perspective is how the various developers have decided to take inspiration from the charity’s cause and the problems that children face in war torn countries.
“We gave the developers a fairly free reign,” Elisabeth explained. “We simply asked them to adhere to our child safety guidelines, in that none of the games could depict children being injured or conflict as entertainment. Indeed some of the games are simply excellent games about great gameplay – those which do relate directly to the cause do so in a way that really highlights the importance of the work we do in a way that is sympathy and informative to the situations of the children and families that we work with.”
Savana and Emily: Displaced are the most directly related to these issues. Savana is a narrative point and click adventure where you play as a young girl in a village, drawing upon real experiences growing up in Mozambique, while Emily leans on the notion of choice and a branching story. Both are relatively short experiences, but that helps your symbolic lack of control in the story events stand out. The choices you make in Emily do shape the direction the story takes; it’s always her parents and other adults who ultimately make the decisions for what happens next.
Other games in the collection are more loosely related, but still go some way to highlighting some of the many problems that ordinary people face. Water is often a precious necessity, and Splash Bash turns this on its head with a fast paced four player multiplayer brawler that has everyone firing water jets to build momentum and crash into one another. It’s a lot of fun.
Easily the most graphically advanced game in the collection, Nevermine is a 3D puzzler where you guide a Mine Kafon through the countryside to clear mines. The Kafon is a fascinating ball made up of lots of flat plates, allowing it to roll around the world and trigger landmines that often blight the lands for decades after hostilities have ended. It’s a clever game, with a puzzle element, as different types of mine propel you around the world in different ways, and you have to manage the momentum and how it affects your direction of travel.
Then there are those that seem to just focus on being a game and little else. Rovio’s Anthelion stands alongside ludicrously addictive games like Super Hexagon, Flappy Bird and Tiny Wings, as you rapidly fly around a star, using a single button to push against its gravity and out toward the edge of the circle. You’re constantly managing your trajectory to try and pick up the various power ups and increase your score, while avoiding the hazardous red shards that will end your game. It’s a fantastically compulsive little game.
BlockAid is another that could stand on its own as an unrelated game. It’s up to you to depress blocks on a board that has sprites marching across it one block at a time, moving along a set path from one side to the other. That sounds easy, as you pick from the three coloured options you’re given each turn – red adding a life for the sprite, yellow increasing their score value when they exit, and blue giving you another turn – and free up the path, but as more and more sprites appear, raising the blocks in their wake, you’re constantly having to juggle
I’ve only really touched upon half of the games in HELP: The Game, but needless to say, it’s a great collection that tackles the issue from a number of different angles and is all in aid of an important cause.
“It’s so important [to find new ways to reach people],” Elisabeth said, “and the gaming industry is a much more untapped community that it should be, when it comes to relationships within the charity sector. There are so many people who are really engaged in gaming, and so many key players in the industry who are excited to use gaming for good. It’s a fantastic opportunity to take the important message – the rights of children affected by conflict – to as many people as possible.
“It’s also a competitive market and sadly there are many problems to presenting opportunities for individuals to donate. Being able to provide a package that people will want to buy already is a great way for us to stand out.”