Healer, a historical battle video game created by Lindsay Grace, Knight Chair of Interactive Media and associate professor, was awarded Best of Show at the art exhibit at the International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS). The game is a part of the games for change genre, where video game developers create games for social change.

“I would do this work no matter what because it’s the right thing to do to help move the games for change medium forward and to help people. The recognition is frosting on an already delicious cake,” said Grace. 

Healer is a sharp contrast to the typical historical battle video game where a player shoots and maims, leaving an endless path of destruction. Instead, in the Healer game, players revive and treat the victims of the Nanking Massacre, a barbaric genocide that began in 1937 in China.

“I was tired of playing games where I reenact atrocities that show the worst of human behavior,” said Grace. “I wanted to create something that reminds us to aim toward doing something good.”

In the game, players heal victims by pulling bullets from their wounds, all while under constant assault from the soldiers who committed this horror. Players work to evade attacks while strategizing on how to keep the revived victims alive or reverse the tragedy entirely. Healer is an empathetic address to a brutal historical event that allows players to correct one of humanities worst massacres, instead of taking part in it.

“It still baffles me how often people want to play through some of the worst parts of human history or imagining even worst futures. The game is designed as a kind of memorial, recognizing the unified story of the people involved in the massacre,” said Grace.

Grace is a world renowned expert on gaming who has received multiple awards for his work, including the 2019 Games for Change Vanguard award. He was the founding director of the American University Game Lab and Studio. He also served as vice president and on the board of directors for the Global Game Jam™ non-profit, an organization that focuses on rapid game development during a 48-hour hackathon-style event.

“I’ve been dissing games for more than a decade that remind people how to play differently. These include what we call persuasive play-games designed to change people’s interests, activities and opinions. This is all the focus of my book, Doing Things with Games. In short, I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of what can be done to create social impact through play,” said Grace.

The ICIDS is an annual conference for researchers and practitioners who study digital interactive forms of narrative. Conference organizers coordinate presentations, an art exhibit, speakers, and workshops for attendees. This year’s conference took place at the Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort outside of Salt Lake City, UT.