A late night IM chat with my friend Paul Rodley led me to explore the emerging world of Activist Games. Paul is currently exploring the use of these within the teaching programme in his school – and I can see why.
Activist Games is an emerging genre of computer gaming that borrows from role-playing, strategy, and other popular genres to engage players – the difference being that, instead of focusing on providing the levels of excitement experienced in the likes of ???Madden NFL 2006,??? ???Pokemon Emerald??? and ???Gran Turismo 4, these games aim to educate and mobilize players around a cause such as protecting the environment, fighting genocide and tackling poverty.
One of the games Paul is currently using with his students is Darfar is Dying, which recently won an MTV award. Darfur is Dying is an online video game that puts you in the shoes of one of the 2.5 million refugees who are fighting for survival every day in Darfur. Players learn more about the challenges these refugees face and to how to take action to help stop the crisis.
Other games in this genre include
- Four Years in Haiti is about poverty-stricken children in the Caribbean country and their struggles to find the resources to go to school.
- “A Force More Powerful” is an ambitious $3 million game for resistance groups that want to role-play scenarios of citywide and even countrywide nonviolent demonstrations, walking through each step from marching to holding a fundraising party. (not available as an online game)
- “Pax Warrior” is a Canadian project that lets users try to prevent the 1990s genocide in Rwanda. Its developers say it already has 250,000 users.
- “Peacemaker,” a strategy game that tasks players with settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by steering the leadership of either side.
- “Earthquake in Zipland,” a cartoonish game that stars a moose trying to assemble a giant zipper to merge the separate islands upon which his parents are drifting apart, an extended metaphor about divorce.
- Food Force A downloadable game based on the scenario of a major crisis in the Indian Ocean, on the island of Sheylan. Players become members of a new team to step up the World Food Programme???s presence there and help feed millions of hungry people.
- “The Organizing Game,” (still in prototype) which is designed to introduce concepts around social activism, prompt discussion, and allow residents to practice skills in a safe, non-threatening environment.
The Games for Change (G4C) website is another useful resource for activist games. It provides support, visibility and shared resources to organizations and individuals using digital games for social change. This is the primary community of practice for those interested in making digital games about the most pressing issues of our day, from poverty to race and the environment. They are the social change/social issues branch of the Serious Games Initiative.