RELEASED TODAY: Tempest in Crescent City

Tempest in Crescent City

Okay, what does that look like to you? A predictably ironic postmodern painting? A wacky dream inspired by a late-night meal at Deanie’s? A panel from Mary Worth? Alas, it’s none of those things. (Though I wouldn’t blame you for guessing Mary Worth.) It is, in fact, a screenshot from a video game–a videogame about Hurricane Katrina.

Called Tempest in Crescent City, it was developed by Global Kids, a nonprofit with a mission of “educating and inspiring urban youth to become successful students as well as global and community leaders.” This marks its second videogame–the first being Ayiti, in which you help a family in Haiti make their way from poverty to prosperity. (I know, right?)

Anyway, in Tempest in Crescent City, you play a teenager trying to find and save your mother before, during, and after the storm. You interact with neighbors, pick up supplies, spread them around, and save people from attics. On its website, Global Kids says it had three goals in developing the game:

  • “Teach players about how everyday residents of New Orleans acted heroically to help each other….”
  • “Emphasize what are perhaps the two most important priorities in any disaster: communication and use of local resources, needs, and knowledge….”
  • “Draw attention to the continuing struggle in New Orleans as residents fight for housing in 2008….”

All of which sounds laudable (maybe), but something still gives me a case of the icks. Being the objective kind of guy I am, though, I tried to put that aside for a second and play the damn thing. Here’s how I graded it, based on four different criteria:

The game didn’t didn’t make me install any crazy extensions, didn’t resize my browser, and downloaded in about 10 seconds. In that respect, it’s exactly what a Flash game should be.

Apart from the directional buttons and the space bar, you don’t use much in this game, and it’s all very intuitive. It felt like there ought to be a few “special” options available, but maybe that’s just me and my six-button, two-bumper, two-trigger, 360-loving ways.

It’s a side-scroller, so if you’ve ever played Pitfall, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not especially challenging, but it is timed, and there’s some richness in your character’s interaction with the environment that make this game different from others. However, there are definitely some glitches in the game (e.g. I had trouble finding the right spot to jump onto roofs) that make it frustrating at times.

I have no idea where I stand on this point. On the one hand, I hate parochialism and essentialism; I know we do things a little differently here, but I don’t want to be labeled one of those GET OFFA MY PROPITTY! kind of people who take pride in thinking that “outsiders” can’t possibly understand New Orleans. People move here all the time, same as any other city; some of ’em get it and stick around, others don’t and move on. BFD. So although I believe that New Orleans is far too rich and diverse to be explained in a simple videogame, I don’t have a problem with anyone trying to do that. Hell, they do it to New York all the time.

On the other hand, creating a videogame involving life-and-death consequences–a videogame based on recent, widely known, real-life, tragically life-and-death events–well, that seems a little dodgy. Would Global Kids have created a game based on the September 11 hijackings? Or the Indonesian tsunami of 2004? It all seems a little gray to me. Yes, it raises some valid questions, gets people thinking, but I’m pretty sure that all that talk about videogames being educational is 95% crapola.

3 Comments so far

  1. bjoseph on October 15th, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

    Thank you so much for writing about out game (I direct the program described). You are the first voice from NO to respond to the game, so it is very much appreciated. However, in response to your comment that "videogames being educational is 95% crapola" I would have to disagree and direct you to the recent Pew study on games which has gotten a lot of media attention, much summarized here:

    Barry Joseph, Global Kids

  2. richard (rico) on October 15th, 2008 @ 9:52 pm

    That page wouldn’t come up for me, but I found this PDF:

    Which does, in fact, imply that in certain circumstances, videogames can positively influence civic impulses in players. I’d argue, however, that there are a lot of variables at work there, and I’m not sure all of them apply in the case of Tempest in Crescent City.

    And even if they do, there’s still the issue of (a) appropriateness and (b) reductiveness. As someone who works with your target demographic (i.e. kids), neither of those issues are likely to bother players, but their parents and even older sibs may get a little icked out. I posted a link to the game on my Facebook page, and everyone who commented or emailed was pretty disturbed. Just so you know.

    Good luck!

  3. More tempest re: Tempest in Crescent City | New Orleans Metblogs (pingback) on October 17th, 2008 @ 5:14 pm

    […] developer for Tempest in Crescent City has written me. He did so in confidence, so I don’t feel comfortable posting his email, but […]

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