Many anti-texting-and-driving messages are delivered via the stories of those who have suffered the consequences of the ill-advised act. We saw a particularly effective and shattering example of this form in Werner Herzog’s recent doc for AT&T, From One Second To The Next. Game designer Holden Link now puts you in the driver’s seat to provide a hands-on demonstration of what happens from second to second when you’re texting and driving.
Link’s game, SMS Racing, was created as part of Ludum Dare, a 72-hour “game jam,” in which thousands of programmers develop games around a given theme. “The theme this time was ’10 seconds,’ and while I was brainstorming idea, I kept getting interrupted by text messages, and made very slow progress because I was dividing my attention, so I decided I wanted to do something about text messaging,” Link says.
After scrapping a concept that required players to eat dinner with their friends without pulling out their phones, Holden built SMS Racing from a stock racing game demo that came with the Unity3D game engine, and added the first-person camera and cell phone. “It’s closer to a remix than an original work,” he says–though given the way it dramatically shifts the nature of the game and makes a social message out of a fairly basic racetrack and driving engine, he might be underselling it.
The trick to the social message in SMS Racing is that it’s a largely unwinnable game–though its dynamics make it feel much more like a game than like a moral lesson. “The gameplay is largely binary,” Link says. “You can either text or drive, but not really both. Some people have complained that makes it less effective, but I’d argue that it’s somewhat representative of the real thing.”
It’s certainly helped the game connect with players. Texting and driving is a topic that people are very interested in right now, and Link was surprised to find that the game tapped into that. “I’ve been making games full time for close to three years, and SMS Racing has gotten more attention than anything I’ve done professionally,” he says. “To say it’s a shock is an understatement.”