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In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the impact of effective messaging in serious games.

Sande Chen, Blogger

August 1, 2014

2 Min Read

[This blog entry originally appeared on Game Design Aspect of the Month for the topic, Emotive Games.]

In a TV advertisement, you've got about 30 seconds to sell your product, tell your story, and connect with the inner desires of your target audience in an emotional way.  This means that every shot and every aspect to this ad spot is valuable.  Yes, it's a pitch.  You need to give the reasons why someone might care about your product and do it quickly.

For a PSA, or public service announcement, it's the same deal but hopefully, your message is more profound than "Mentos make you super attractive."  It's very important to get your message across and I think a simple, understandable message is best, such as "Smoking kills."  Certainly, the PSA can convey more in terms of what other bad things may happen if one smokes, but the main message of "Smoking kills" should be reinforced over and over, should you choose to go this direction.

Here's an example of a PSA that does have an effective message:


Although the primary message here appears to be "Seat belts save lives," the PSA also connects on a very emotional level about familial love with the suggestion that using a seat belt is a small act one can do for the love of one's family.  The tagline, "Embrace Life," reinforces this idea.

In serious games, many game designers choose not to give a heavy-handed message.  It may be a simple message like, "War is hell," while not indicting either side of the conflict.  The purpose is to get the player thinking about hard issues or to explore a controversial topic.  But for a PSA-type game, the message IS important.  If I were designing a game to bring awareness about the importance of seat belts, then I do want the players to end up getting the "Seat belts save lives" message.

Are games an effective medium for this purpose?  I think it's possible for us to design games that do make an impact on players' lives in such a manner and furthermore, I believe that to do so effectively, we'll have to reach the players on an emotional level.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

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About the Author(s)

Sande Chen


A co-founder of Writers Cabal, Sande Chen works as a game writer and designer. In 2008, she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing. While still at film school at USC, she was nominated for a Grammy in music video direction. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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