PC games and peacebuilding

I started a while ago to think of ways the latest advanced in graphics processing technology could be harnessed to create games that are as visually compelling as the likes of Doom III or Half-Life, but with a fundamentally different premise – to teach the values of peacebuilding as opposed to strafing aliens.

The problem is not even with the graphics, but with the gameplay and storyline. Peace, unfortunately, is perceived to be less appealing than the visceral pleasure of blasting alien, mutant or terrorist butt. Gameplay for peace gaming needs to come up with storylines that use graphics to envelop a player into a world of break-neck decisions and complexity that often mirrors real life conflict transformation.

Increasingly, we are seeing the emergence of these games with a social conscience. One of the first was Food Force supported by the World Food Programme. Coupling a sophisticated 3D gaming engine to a story line that mirrors food crises in the real world, the objectives of the game were intended to strengthen a holistic understanding of issues like famine, drought and food aid.

Using games for peacebulding isn’t a new idea and a plethora of websites exist with ideas and resources of how best to use game techniques with children, youth and adults to teach the basics of conflict transformation, like Peace Games.

What is new however is, as I mentioned earlier, games that use the same appealing graphics as heavily marketed mainstream gaming titles. The latest addition to this genre is A Force More Powerful, a game that I intend to order soon and look forward to playing. As the website blurb states:

Featuring ten scenarios inspired by history, A Force More Powerful simulates nonviolent struggles to win freedom and secure human rights against dictators, occupiers, colonizers, and corrupt regimes, as well as campaigns for political and human rights for minorities and women. The game models real-world experience, allowing players to devise strategies, apply tactics and see the results.

Whether such games are able to successfully jostle for attention in a market dominated by violent games on the lines of Grand Theft Auto: San Adreas is an open question, but AFMP is, at least, a start. The screenshots show a gaming world similar to that of the Sims, allowing not just a great graphical experience but a useful learning environment as well. Surely, the objectives of such a game would also be to explore failure on account of bad decisions and its consequences to the inhabitants and relationships in the gaming-world.

There is another side to the gaming and peacebuilding debate that I’ve not touched in this blog post because it is so often written about, with little or no agreement on a common stand – the issue of violent games leading to violent lives. Because so much is written on this topic, my interest lies more in PC game development that takes what’s successful from mainstream games today – storyline, graphics, gameplay, celebrity marketing and voiceovers, online gaming communities – and applying them to new generation games for peacebuilding that are as successful in regions of conflict.

Perhaps through games for peace we can teach the generations that follow us that which we have been unsuccessfully trying to impart to the political leaders of today.

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