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  Promoting Nonviolent Activism With ‘A Force More Powerful’  
Posted 2006-03-03 by Tony Walsh
Can a computer game train non-violent activists to fight real-world adversaries? The producers of A Force More Powerful seem to hope so. The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) and York Zimmerman Inc. have joined forces with BreakAway games to launch what they call "...the only PC game about nonviolent struggle available today." The game is certainly unique in its detailed real-world socio-political simulations and promotion of nonviolent action. Its makers intend for the game to be given away free to activist groups. The official game site includes an online resource guide linking to related organizations and further reading material about nonviolence.

From the official site: "Playing one or more of the packaged scenarios, users will learn strategic planning, formulation of goals (such as compelling free elections or the resignation of a dictator), and the choice of tactics (such as strikes, protests or boycotts)." The game even includes a toolset that allows players to re-create historical political struggles or invent their own.

Doug Whately, CEO of BreakAway Games says "A Force More Powerful is definitely different than a tactical type game like a first-person shooter because it makes you think and plan. It's something that actually makes you step back from the immersion in the world that we put you [in] and look at the world you live in in a different way." A long promo video for the game is available in WMV format through BreakAway Games. It's worth noting that BreakAway has also developed software for use at the Army War College, Naval War College, and The Joint Chiefs Office of Net Assessment.
  Gamer War:  South Koreans Persecute Chinese Over ‘Ninja Looting’  
Posted 2006-02-21 by Tony Walsh
The Financial Times (of all places) reports that groups of South Korean players of the game Lineage are collectively killing off the characters of other players perceived to be Chinese. The reasons for the online war appear to be cultural--but more in an in-game cultural sense. Chinese players are beginning to get a bad reputation in massively-multiplayer games because of "gold farming" operations in that country. Add to this the reported tendency to "ninja loot" (stealthily claim the booty from fallen enemies another player has kills) in Lineage, and some South Korean players of the game, which reportedly has about 3 million suscribers, have taken matters into their own hands. The Financial Times says "areas such as the Island of Dreams - popular with Chinese gamers because it is relatively easy to earn money - are becoming the site of online massacres."

The maker of Lineage, NCSoft, is reportedly aware of the situation, but say it's not possible to be sure if those "slain" were Chinese.
  Murder Simulators Get High Military Marks  
Posted 2006-02-14 by Tony Walsh
The Washington Post reports about the effects of video games on the performance of American soldiers. Readers are immediately introduced to a a combat engineer's impressions of his first live shooting: "It felt like I was in a big video game. It didn't even faze me, shooting back. It was just natural instinct. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!" The combatant told the Post that the experience was like the video game Halo, and that "It didn't even seem real, but it was real."

The article goes in-depth to discuss a number of former and current games and simulators that are used to boost soldiering skills. A former chief of staff of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab said that soldiers of the video game generation are the new Spartans: "Remember the days of the old Sparta, when everything they did was towards war? In many ways, the soldiers of this video game generation have replicated that, and that's something to think about." It sure is.

If video games can improve physical and mental skills, as some studies have claimed; if video game marketing is as effective as advertising networks claim... video games appear to be the perfect medium for breeding indoctrinated soldiers superior to their predecessors. And by this logic, aren't video games the perfect medium for breeding violence in general? Controversial lawyer Jack Thompson calls video games murder simulators--how far off the mark is he, really?
  Games as Medium for Art and Criticism  
Posted 2006-01-12 by Tony Walsh
The Game As Critic As Art workshop is underway today in Barcelona. We Make Money Not Art has provided an abridged, English-language version of an essay accompanying the event, reportedly originally written by Laura Baigorri of Barcelona University:

Bairgorri's translated essay might not be a perfect representation of her work, but is likely to provide an inspirational read for anyone interested in making culturally-mature, socially-significant games.

I was a bit disappointed not to see much discussion of players subverting unmodified online games as a form of activism. It's one thing to make a game that makes a statement. It's another thing entirely to subvert a platform not designed as a space for activism. I've only dabbled in this area with my suggestion of protesting McDonald's in The Sims Online, and my experimentation with free speech in the restrictive Virtual Magic Kingdom. Remember: Constraint breeds creativity.
  Do Games Train?  
Posted 2005-10-19 by Tony Walsh
Game Politics relays word of an ABC-11 News report entitled "Video Game Doubles as Learning Tool," wherein the official U.S. Army recruitment video game America's Army is said to teach players "...important lessons that could save lives." The news story asserts that "A letter from a mother to the Army is proof it can save lives," and relates the mother's story of her younger son--an America's Army player--who saved her older son from a domestic accident because of first aid skills allegedly learned in the game.

This is the double-edged sword the games industry is teetering on. You cannot proclaim loudly how games train people to save lives while ignoring that the opposite is equally possible--particularly in the case of America's official Army recruitment game. If games train us to save lives, they must also train us to take lives--if the industry takes responsibility for the good, it also has to accept the bad.
  ‘America’s Army’ Marketing Cranked Up to Eleven  
Posted 2005-08-29 by Tony Walsh
The US Army will join publishing partner Ubisoft in an expanded marketing campaign for the recruitment video game "America's Army: Rise of the Soldier" due out on consoles this fall, according to "Marketing for the PC title will continue under the military's Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis (OEMA). The retail title, available for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, mixes army goals with corporate objectives." An upcoming marketing push will reportedly reach game sites such as IGN and, and will involve print magazines with gaming or military audiences.

According to ClickZ, "The army has plans to grow the property beyond video games. [Spokesperson Christopher Chambers] said OEMA wants to bring the brand to TV shows, movies, and action figures through product placement and licensing. He said a deal to publish America's Army game for mobile phones is being inked."

Sheesh. I guess they're really desperate for recruits. I have no idea why. It's not like the game is called "America's Army: Rise of the Soldier and Subsequent Painful Death At the Hands of Remarkably Clever Iraqi Insurgents" or anything.
  NYC Councillor Pressures Atari Over Graffiti Game  
Posted 2005-07-22 by Tony Walsh
Atari's upcoming graffiti video game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure should be scrapped, according to the Office of Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr in New York City. Vallone, described by his office as the "leader of the fight against graffiti," seems to think that with video games, it's monkey-see, monkey-do.

In Vallone's view, "it appears [Atari wants] to make crime exciting and to teach children how to get away with breaking the law...I'm just glad they aren't giving out cans of spray paint with this game." The former prosecutor seems to think that not only will the unreleased game serve as a training manual for juvenile deliquency, but that the lack of a spray paint can is all that stands between kids and crime. By that logic, all that stands between America's Army players and mass-murder is the lack of a weapon; all that stands between Grand Theft Auto players and vehicular homicide is the lack of a car.

Continue reading: NYC Councillor Pressures Atari Over Graffiti Game
  Canadians Brace for iPod Crime Spree  
Posted 2005-07-11 by Tony Walsh
Toronto-based CFTO News informed viewers this evening that iPod-related crime is on the rise, pointing to a single incident of American violence involving an iPod as a potential warning sign for Canadians. In one of the worst "news" stories I have ever viewed, CFTO cited only one specific American crime, and no specific Canadian crime involving iPods, yet painted a picture of portable music-player peril. "It's all about common sense," said the reporter in a live follow-up segment, advising viewers not to walk down a dark alley at night while wearing an iPod. No joke. She really said that.

Dearest readers, I'd like to add to this sobering advice that you shouldn't point a loaded shotgun at your forehead while wearing an iPod, drive a car while drunk and wearing an iPod, or sell drugs to children while wearing an iPod. On a somewhat related note, I'd also like to recommend against eating glass or trying to put a cement brick in your bum while wearing an iPod.
  Killer Gamer On Death Row  
Posted 2005-06-08 by Tony Walsh
The Shanghai gamer who stabbed his friend for stealing and selling a virtual-world sword "...has been given a suspended death sentence..." by Chinese authorities, according to the Beeb. "The suspended sentence given to Qui means he could spend the rest of his life behind bars, although it could be reduced to 15 years for good behaviour."

Related Links:
  Ontario Regulates Violent Games  
Posted 2005-06-01 by Tony Walsh
Retailers in Ontario, Canada will now be subject to fines if they sell unrated video games (presumably under the same ESRB system used in the U.S.). The legislation, introduced by Consumer and Business Services Minister Jim Watson, aims to warn parents against the various degrees of violence found in games. [source]

Because a press release for this news cannot (at the time of this writing) be found at either the MCBS or the Ontario Film Review Board web site, I am forced to limit my comments to speculation.

Continue reading: Ontario Regulates Violent Games
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