"Edutainment" is an oft-mocked word, but a lot of people do learn things much more readily through interactivity than through passively attempting to absorb information. The recent "Sweatshop" game from Channel 4 and Littleloud was a good example of how to educate people on serious issues through fun gaming. "The End," a new web game also from Channel 4, but this time developed by digital studio Preloaded, aims to get its players -- particularly 14-19 year olds -- thinking about the end of life and attitudes towards death.
The game takes the form of a physics-based platformer in which the player takes control of an avatar of their own creation. The twist on the usual formula is that the player has control over light and shadow, and when standing in a dark place, they can shift to "shadow form" to create platforms to otherwise-inaccessible areas. Levels contain stars and keys to collect, and end with confrontations against boss monsters.
So far, so conventional, you might think. The "metaphysical" aspect of the game comes in with the "decision doors" which appear at the end of each level just prior to a boss confrontation. Each poses a weighty philosophical question to do with mortality, and the player's choices throughout the game will help build a profile of their "inner self." Through this gradual process of self-discovery, the player is supposed to learn more about their own attitudes and how they respond to life and death.
It helps that the game itself is fun. The platforming is slick and smooth, and boss confrontations are resolved not through a predictable platform combat sequence, but through a game of "Death Cards," a simple but addictive puzzle game which would make a perfectly acceptable Flash game on its own.
"It is when people reach [14-19] that they start to engage in thinking about mortality and adulthood and part of that is thinking about death," says The End writer, Tom Chatfield. "Games are a great way to help get young people interested in things and The End is a perfect example of offering engaging tools to grasp quite complex philosophical ideas."
If you're ready to launch your own journey of self-discovery, check out the game at the official website when it launches later today.