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In popular gaming culture

In popular gaming culture (and console gaming in particular), I absolutely agree with your assertion that these sorts of "real world" games have fallen by the wayside. I think this is mainly due to the rising cost of game development, which has tended to push out niche titles in favor of summer blockbusters. But I don't think these games ever truly disappeared. They have have found a home in other cultures (see the popularity of the Densha De Go! train simulation series in Japan), in specialized applications (see the recent New Yorker article on helping soldiers deal with PTSD), or in web-based games. In fact, with the advent of digital distribution and web-based games, I think we're going to see a resurgence of more "personal" games, created by a lone developer or in small teams with low production costs, addressing the same sorts of themes the games in this post did 20 years ago. Recently a number of these games have appeared, some in poor taste (a flash game based on the Hudson River plane crash, numerous games on the web and the iPhone recreating George W. Bush's shoe-throwing incident), some in jest (a recreation of the infamous "Desert Bus" sequence from the never-released Penn and Teller Sega CD game), some with higher ambitions (see this New York Times article on Games for Change dealing with issues like the Gaza conflict, Darfur, and world hunger), and some just for fun (see the recent Nintendo DS release Air Traffic Chaos).

In short, while it's doubtful the next Halo will introduce any weighty themes like world hunger, I do see these issues being addressed in a growing number of independent games. And, if any of these games catch on with the general public, I wouldn't be surprised to see the bigger game studios develop "prestige games" in the same way Hollywood does with movies.

~Brett Bates

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