Global conflicts become interactive

Games for Change engages people in world issues through video games.

Maureen Landsverk

Rules are made to be broken; limits, to be tested. The causeless rebel in each of us has, at some point, held the same nonchalant, blasé conviction. Even so, there is a line; a line of accepted social conduct, of moral principle that most of us recoil from; an innate tendency. This place, a no-manâÄôs-land between the relaxed ethical standards of today and the social conventions we all acknowledge and conform to, has been touched on, only by the most daring of our society. It is not clearly defined but somehow commonly understood. Gray areas do exist, in a world that is known to be a piebald mess. With the overwhelmingly expansive media coverage of today, everything has a story, a purpose and a new âÄúspinâÄù on the old. Privacy has been quietly eliminated with reality television and the growing market application of the camera; tradition has been replaced by innovation and the ethics which once guided mass media have been thrown out the window. Even in the past few years, the scope of media formats and information made publicly available has multiplied many times over. The advent of the technological age has even changed the face of grassroots crisis involvement, and the newfound recognition of the Serious Games Initiative is one indicator of this shift in public awareness. Games for Change, a non-profit organization operated alongside Games for Health and under the Serious Games Initiative, is working to engage everyday people in the crises of the world; namely social and political problems that would otherwise seem too abstract to fully understand and realistically grasp. Seeking to connect distant audiences to global experiences on a personal level, Games for Change has fielded and hosted social and political change games and discussion forums in the hopes of raising awareness and enacting real change. Some of the games offered include such jarring titles as âÄúThird World FarmerâÄù and âÄúDarfur is Dying.âÄù The Games for Change organization has focused mainly on expanding the knowledge of current issues, an admirable objective in itself. But its methodology and tactical approach must be questioned. Are video games an appropriate medium to portray serious or appalling experiences? Suzanne Seggerman, president and co-founder of Games for Change, thinks so. When asked about the suitability of such sensitive content in a gaming format, she responds with a resolute faith in the cause for peaceful change and negotiation, âÄúWhat about television? Games are just another medium. There is nothing inherently fun or trivial about them. Games donâÄôt have to be entertaining; they have to be engaging.âÄù Since the initiation of the Games for Change Web site in 2004, it has been the sole Internet resource for anyone interested in designing video games geared toward social change and reform. The site, whose purpose is âÄúgeared toward awareness,âÄù has been visited by millions of people across the world in the past few years. This popularity is how Seggerman defines the siteâÄôs success. PeaceMaker, a game developed by ImpactGames for children ages 14 and up, challenges its players to find a way to settle the ongoing conflict in the Middle East through peaceful methods. Released in 2007, the game has been featured on as well as other distributor Web sites. It has won several awards, including the University of South CarolinaâÄôs Public Diplomacy Games Contest and the Games for Change Annual Contest. It has also been positively reviewed by both the Arab and Israeli presses. Its purpose is centered around five key points; primarily important is the empathetic understanding of both sides of the conflict. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, reviewed the game, saying that âÄúPeaceMaker is groundbreaking in both its conception and execution. This exceptionally creative and relevant video game will further concepts of conflict resolution and peacemaking and bring important new audiences into the fold.âÄù These goals are mirrored in the modus operandi of Games for Change, a purpose Seggerman classifies as âÄúinstrumental in raising the profile of what games are capable of.âÄù Seggerman said âÄúGames for Change is at the center of a new movement involving society in the social issues and global conflict of our day.âÄù While the medium may be debatable, the results are not. Effectual methods of relaying and relating information on the current social and political climate to the masses are invaluable. When the lives of innocents hang in the balance in places such as Darfur, the ends justify the means. To those who refute the efficacy of the Serious Games Initiative, I need only point to the progress of our society in the sympathetic support extended to impoverished and developing countries in recent years. From providing aid in health and nutritional value to Darfur to our military efforts to implement a stable government in Iraq, the United States is evolving not only individually, but as a whole, in measures of compassion and concern for the human race. Maureen Landsverk welcomes comments at [email protected]