The big-name game avalanche is here, and I'm sure we'll all be talking about each one for the requisite 7-10 days before dropping it and moving on to the next big thing. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy knowing about a couple of games bound to be overlooked due to the timing of their releases and the fact that their objectives differ significantly from commercial titles.
Operation: Sleeper Cell is a massively multiplayer puzzle game designed to raise money for Cancer Research UK. It could also be described as an ARG since it incorporates a story that ties in real-world resources like blogs, Twitter, and live events. The game is designed and run by Law 37, an alliance of designers, programmers, and writers "working together to create pro bono, pro-social games." Importantly, all money raised by the game is donated to Cancer Research UK, with a maximum of 5% of the proceeds spent on running the game.
You can play Operation: Sleeper Cell for free. If you can't afford to donate, you can still play all the missions that others have unlocked. A new mission appears each week. The game started on September 23rd and will last for approximately ten weeks, but you can join in at any time and not miss anything.
Traces of Hope is another socially aware ARG. Sponsored by the British Red Cross, the game focuses on Joseph, a Ugandan teenager searching for his mother during a time of civil war. The game puts players in virtual communication with Joseph as he attempts to discover if his mother is alive or dead. "He has a satellite phone, you have the web – together you’ll make a great team. Time is running out; guide Joseph through sickness, fire and violence as together you follow his traces of hope."
After registering, you begin receiving email messages from Joseph, written in a way that conveys a palpable sense of desperation. Soon you are drawing on resources like Facebook and search engines to help Joseph locate a Red Cross official to begin the tracing and messaging process used to reunite displaced refugees.
Both these games are valient and worthy attempts to reach new audiences through creative, interactive, cross-media gameplay. I encourage you to give them a try and support the voluntary efforts of the people who designed and built them. My thanks to Adrian Hon, the person behind the Let's Change the Game initiative; and to Dorothea Arndt of the British Red Cross for contacting me and letting me know about these projects.