Global Conflicts: Latin America

2007 saw the release of two thought-provoking and remarkably even-handed games about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The makers of PeaceMaker went on to create Play The News, a current affairs prediction MMO that, sadly, appears to have stalled at the beta stage. The makers of Global Conflicts: Palestine have just put the finishing touches on Global Conflicts: Latin America, a player-as-journalist adventure that had me shaking my head in ‘Why-is-the-British-media-not-telling-me-about-this-stuff? ‘ anger last night.

 

In the browser-based demo (that I’m sure I could embed if I was clever enough) you’re tasked with ferreting out the grim truth behind the Maquiladoras – large US factories operating on the Northern border of Mexico. The full game sends you off to investigate racial tension and slavery in Bolivia, crooked elections in Guatemala, and the actions of American ‘Minutemen’ patrols too.

Is there seventeen quid’s worth of value on offer? I’ve only spent a single evening newshounding thus far, so I can’t say for sure, but my impressions are largely positive. Though the graphics and GUI are poorer than a Bolivian dump dweller, and the gameplay is a little thin (scamper around collecting the ‘arguments’ you’ll need to make a crucial interviewee sweat in the closing interview) the issues themselves are so compelling, and so skilfully communicated, it’s hard not to end-up absorbed.

59 Comments

  1. noom says:

    Fascinating to see these issues raised in our beloved little medium.

    If it helps more people realise who the true largest terrorist nations are, then it gets excellent approval ratings from me.

  2. Down Rodeo says:

    I’m impressed that there’s a game that is actually carried by its political content… If one wanted to be cynical about why we don’t see this on the news one could say that it is because it is not sensational. People don’t have any idea about it at all contrasted to the vague knowledge they might have about other stories or, to be fair, extensive knowledge of a subject. So these stories appear – we can relate to them. Everything else is happening too far away with not enough connection.

  3. Jonas says:

    Palestine was a poor game in terms of mechanics and gameplay – the fact that you could only move by clicking combined with the very limited zoom made just getting around a major chore. However, I thought the game was definitely worth the time I spent playing it just for the dialogue and the documentaristic content that we so rarely see in games. I actually learned something from it.

    Be forewarned that these Global Conflict games are education games – created primarily to be used as part of an educational project in schools. The idea being that games by themselves aren’t sufficient to educate in a particular topic, but that as part of a larger project, they can provide an invaluable opportunity for students to really explore the given topics.

    In my opinion, it’s particularly interesting because the developers can put a lot of work into branching content that a single player will never see in a single playthrough – in Palestine, for example, you had to really take sides to get people to open up, and that in turn would close off dialogue from the other side of the conflict. I tried to stay neutral and so I never got really deep into either side of the conflict. But that’s okay when an entire class of students will play through the game and then discuss and compare their experiences :)

  4. Nuyan says:

    I’ll try it out.

    I’m very interested in these sort of games and I think games going into this direction have a lot of potential. It’s the ideal medium for it, just a lot harder and more time-consuming to make than all other media.

    I’ve participated in PlayTheNews for a half year as well, it’s quite interesting, but should be a bit more entertaining. No idea how to do that myself though.

  5. boatorious says:

    Propaganda in game form. Finally!

  6. skizelo says:

    So, don’t bother playing the game, just read about the subject?

  7. Raven185 says:

    The game takes place in Jerusalem but the song playing in their web site is about Istanbul(actually there are lines from poems “Aziz Istanbul” and “Donulmez aksamin ufkundayiz” by Yahya Kemal Beyatli). I smell orientalism.

  8. Dreamhacker says:

    Boatorious: Haven’t you ever heard of Americas Army? Biggest pile of steaming propaganda ever known!

  9. dhex says:

    the games as political vehicles thing does worry me a little bit, even though it’s an expanded avenue of communication for niche concerns and will probably become even more popular in the future, etc etc and so forth. it’s merely another angle for people to work on disseminating their particular views, but games kinda suck at telling made-up stories most of the time; putting them anywhere near items of genuine importance hits some kinda panic button in my head.

    i can’t help but feel the answer to “why didn’t the bbc tell me this” is “you’re not doing enough work yourself” – alternately you get a subscription to the economist*. :)

    *dunno how it is in the uk, but the bbc in america is largely seen as a leftist propaganda outfit by conservatives; conversely the economist is just another cog in the right wing murder machine for american leftists. i think both views are deeply off base and the product of idiotic minds – the bbc is far more about good design and relatively sedate delivery than socialism, and the economist is just about the best weekly news and business magazine in the english speaking world, far less rightish once you move off the three pages of leaderboard than its critics seem to believe.

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    Dhex: We live in a country where we pay to have our news service do the job properly, so Tim’s complaints are fine. It may be viewed as leftist propaganda by America, but as a country, you’re way further to the right than us. The BBC is a pretty fluffy public service, bless ’em.

    KG

  11. dhex says:

    yeah i keep forgetting you guys are in a decades long run of 1984: the musical. :)

    i do appreciate the laid back quality of the bbc world news broadcast.

    it’s no news hour with jim lehrer for sure, little beedy eyed muppet he is.

  12. Ginger Yellow says:

    Hooray! Now I can be a journalist all my waking hours, not just at work.

  13. Jonas says:

    I’d take Big Brother over Fox News any day and twice on Sundays ;)

    Seriously though, Palestine is not propaganda. I can’t speak for Latin America, but Palestine is an even-handed piece of drama documentary where you’re cast as an American journalist sent to cover the conflict. Whether you listen most to the Israelites or the Palestinians or attempt to stay in the middle is entirely up to you.

    skizelo: If you prefer reading to playing games, by all means borrow some books on the subject instead. Palestine is thoroughly researched, however, and what it fails at as a game, it makes up for as a drama documentary. I call it that because though each mission is based on witness accounts and historical research, all characters and specific events are fictional.

    It’s a neat way to explore the facets of the conflict and come to understand what’s keeping it alive.

  14. Grandstone says:

    @dhex

    What? People see the Economist that way? I live in Boston, the stereotypical hub of leftism on the East Coast, and yet I’ve never anything but good about that magazine. That’s among college students, too.

    I’ve never heard anyone call the BBC a liberal propaganda outfit either, but I guess my location could be an explanation for that.

    But I agree that seeing those publications in such an extreme way is foolish.

  15. boatorious says:

    There are really two schools of thought on the subject. The one thought is that games should be fun to play, and that the goal of games is to excel in their medium.

    The other school is that games are worthless and that their only hope for rehabilitation is as a “teaching tool.”

    I don’t have much respect for the latter. If I want to learn about something I’ll read about it. “Message” games (along with “message” movies and “message” music) are not about presenting the facts and making you think. They are about provoking a predetermined emotional response so you can avoid all that difficult and dangerous thinking.

  16. Tim Stone says:

    “Palestine was a poor game in terms of mechanics and gameplay… However, I thought the game was definitely worth the time I spent playing it just for the dialogue and the documentaristic content that we so rarely see in games.”

    My feeliings exactly Jonas.

    “in Palestine, for example, you had to really take sides to get people to open up, and that in turn would close off dialogue from the other side of the conflict.”

    Disappointingly, Latin America doesn’t force you to cultivate contacts or approach a story from a particular perspective (you only ever work for one news organistation). Information gathering seems to be far more mechanical.

  17. Hi, I are commenting on ur post lol says:

    Boat: Yeah, I can invent a point of view (or “school of thought”) and argue against it too, but it would only make me look stupid.

    On topic, I think people should play Hidden Agenda. It’s old and crap-looking, but it’s very easy to play, and very effective at what it does.

  18. Tim Stone says:

    Boatorious, do try PeaceMaker or Global Conflicts: Palestine. Both games force you to do lots of “difficult and dangerous thinking”.

  19. Maximum Fish says:

    I kept wondering when games were going to decide to jump on board with movies and television, and start telling us what to think. This is great for me, because i am way to busy to form my own opinions.

  20. noom says:

    Seems a little ill-informed to be calling this propaganda. From what I see this is the exact opposite; an attempt to dessimate the kind of propaganda and misinformation that is represented by most media.

    I second the opinion that reading is the best way to learn about these things, but you also have to accept that a lot of people lack the incination to do just that; surely this can only help in reaching more people.

  21. Jonas says:

    In fact this game is meant to work in concert with more conventional education material. That means reading lots of books and then playing the game (though I’m sure the other way around would work just as fine).

    Maximum Fish: Clearly you haven’t played these games. Their aim is certainly not to tell you what to think. They do not provide any answers, they simply give you an insight into the differences and the beliefs at the core of the conflict. Please do give them a try before you dismiss them as propaganda.

  22. Grandstone says:

    Just wanted to second the love for Hidden Agenda.

    It’s abandonware, as far as I know, though the programmer prefers it used as a classroom tool and sends copies to interested persons in exchange for an explanation for why they want it and a donation to a particular help-Latin-America charity.

    Anyway, it’s an old choose-this-week’s-action management game in which you run a ludicrously unstable fledgling democracy in Central America, ducking threats from the Communists, who are backed by Russia, the right-wingers, who are backed by the United States, and even your own cabinet. I’ve had games where I granted too much power to the old regime’s army (there’s a power-sharing agreement between the old army and the rebels), which ultimately left me sitting powerless in my office while my ministers merrily exterminated the Communists and anyone else nearby.

  23. Grandstone says:

    Sorry to double-post, but there’s even a priest who consoles you if you end up in a situation like that. The game gets the creeping horror of being the loser in a power struggle just right.

  24. Novack says:

    Bravo!! for making widely public this kind of games… and content.

  25. Candid_Man says:

    Some people here seem to equate education/information with propaganda. I wonder where those commenters were schooled to such a paranoid equivocation. (I can hazard a guess.)

    As for the games under discussion, I’m more than willing to see interactivity taken in a more critical and politically relevant direction. It seems to me that more should be attempted on that particular front in order to expand what we take to be the horizon of games as medium.

  26. Oarfish says:

    I wonder if you get to pass off pallywood productions as legitimate news footage?

    > The BBC is a pretty fluffy public service, bless ‘em

    Which most UK conservatives consider to be chronically biased towards a centre left world view. In fact attitudes towards it are a pretty good indication of voting preference. Make of that what you will.

  27. Maximum Fish says:

    I’m not dismissing this as propaganda, that’d be silly as I’ve never played it. I just think that the condescending preaching that’s been growing in both vehemence and regularity in Hollywood productions is annoying as all shit, and i’d hate to see the same thing happen to videogames. I ground my teeth reading about how the new Prince of Persia is going to have a topical subtext that will help players ‘grow intellectually’ or whatever (seriosly, that shit takes some gall, who are they who need to reach down and help up my uneducated ass?). I for one am definately not in favor of games going ‘relevant’, since that usually just means that everyone just acts all pompous and self-righteous. This one does actually look like a “teaching tool” though, so i guess i’m sort of off-topic after all…

  28. MrDeVil_909 says:

    I can understand why people would be opposed to political games, but to treat the idea as if it means that all games would go in that direction seems odd.

    It is like thinking that allowing Michael Moore movie/doccies into theaters means that the next Batman movie won’t get made.

    Surely there is space for the ‘fun’ games and the thought provoking ones?

  29. Bobsy says:

    I am in favour of a documentary genre of gaming. God knows what it would be like to play, but the idea is one I heartily support.

  30. Kieron Gillen says:

    Oarfish: Don’t necessarily disagree. But public services, by their nature*, tend to lean left. and centre/left is “Fluffy”, in my books.

    KG

    *Because the right would never had created them, for one.

  31. Oarfish says:

    >But public services, by their nature*, tend to lean left.

    Which is probably why they shouldn’t be tasked with delivering impartial current affairs coverage, even if such a thing were possible in the first place.

    Most of the BBC’s output could easily be provided by grubby commerce, genuine public service broadcasting is a tiny fraction of its output. Still, there would have to be a restoration of the regulations on cross media ownership before anything could be done or everything would end up in the hands of 2 or 3 plutocrats. I’m pretty sure a proxy bunfight between Soros and Murdoch doesn’t qualify as a reasonable range of debate.

  32. Kieron Gillen says:

    “grubby commerce”

    Which, by its nature, leans right.

    KG

  33. phil says:

    Noam Chomsky’s would argue the BBC’s itself is structurally biased to the right, in that it fails to question the normative assumptions of a fundamentally unequal society, one bound to replicate and intensify this inequality.

    The Economist, the FT, make the same assumptions, but are more open about their agenda. “Grubby commerce” wins either way.

  34. Oarfish says:

    US media is both mainly commercial and largely left of its political axis, and we have firmly left of centre newspapers in this country (admittedly cross subsided from Autotrader and public sector job ads ). I don’t object to its bias per se, merely being forced to subsidise it with threat of criminal prosecution.

    I imagine being forced to subsidise the Daily Wail would produce a similar reaction on your side of the fence, what with it being distinctly not fluffy.

  35. Kieron Gillen says:

    RPS comments threads are lovely.

    KG

  36. Oarfish says:

    > Noam Chomsky’s would argue the BBC’s itself is structurally biased to the right

    Noam Chomsky would argue that the SWP is structurally biased to the right, the issue is position relative to the nigh impossible to define centre of debate not from an ideological standpoint as pure as his. The BBC is hardly a hotbed of Chomsky’s brand of left wing ‘anarchism’. Like it or not, the Mail’s gaudy brand of populist right wing posturing represents a sizeable proportion of mainstream political opinion in this country.

    Anybody on the fringes of political discourse is implicitly going to be marginalised by a mass medium, this is probably why the UK political blogging scene is massively overrepresented by raving libertarians.

  37. phil says:

    @Oarfish

    Chomsky sees the 1920s populist press, produced by working class intellectuals to promote their own interests, as a high water mark for reform minded Amercian journalism. As such, he’d likely welcome the SWP’s efforts in the area, however disappointing the results.

    Though the Daily Mail does indeed represent a sizeable proportion of mainstream political opinion, it’s no reason to excuse its biased partial reporting on issues like the EU (or indeed video games.)

    Also centrism is politics is hardly the be all and end all, now more than ever we need another FDR or Atlee – not another Blair.

  38. Oarfish says:

    Hmm, and I thought old school socialists disliked the EU as much as nationalists and libertarians, what with it being irredeemably corporatist and corrupt.

    And lets not get started on wanting a repeat of America’s 10 year experiment with national socialism.

  39. dhex says:

    “Noam Chomsky’s would argue the BBC’s itself is structurally biased to the right”

    to be fair, chomsky probably thinks most baked goods are structurally conservative, if not downright reactionary.

    speaking of which:
    link to brandonbird.com

    phil: after eight years of a hyperactive imperial presidency, i don’t know if we need someone threatening to [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_packing]override the supreme court[/url] and related shenanigans. the cult of personality is creepy enough as it is, though i think it will subside eventually in obama’s case. sure, i would like to go back to a time when the presidency wasn’t treated like a combination of jesus and rambo who somehow magically controls the economy and brings the sun out of hiding every morning, but my time machine is broken and…wait a minute!

    ok new idea for a political game: ATTACK OF THE IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY

    the player has to find a way to go back in time and KILL ANDREW JACKSON and – more importantly – blame it on his supporters, thus preventing the imperial presidency from ever emerging as a populist current. do you bring back a 20th century weapon to give to that crazed housepainter who tried to assassinate him in ’36? the problem being that jackson was a total badass so a straight buck buck kpow approach is nearly impossible. do you embolden the 2nd national bank, perhaps crushing jackson during a speaking tour in hundreds of pounds of specie, even if the post-assassination impound leads to further bank collapse and still ushers in economic populist reform?

    or perhaps you just arm the surviving cherokee with laser rifles.

    choices *and* consequences!

    plus children could learn the most important lesson of all: andrew jackson was a complete dick.

    edit: i realize the imperial presidency is nearly impossible to kill, if nixon couldn’t do it no one can; maybe it’s a biological thing that makes people seek out kings and christs…i dunno.

  40. Oarfish says:

    And the winner of the thread is dhex :)

  41. phil says:

    @oarfish – I’m not a socialist though I’m flattered you think so, socialists in the UK and USA tend to be far nicer people than average. On your second point, I’m invoking Godwin’s Law (still, mega irony points for comparing FDR to the Nazis.)

    @dhex – Let’s let Obama get his feet under the table before we start castigating him as constitution compromising fanatic shall we?

    That said, with the Supreme Court as slanted to right as it is right now, I’d say he’s going to have to be more creative than the average exec.

  42. dhex says:

    hey man, you mentioned fdr, not me. :)

    still, it will take a massive public disappointment to really do any damage to the notion of president as god-king, and even then…

    that’s why we need an edutainment title about assassinating andrew jackson more than ever.

  43. Oarfish says:

    It’s a Alistair Cooke quote, he actually admired him:

    “In a way, what America really did during the New Deal was have a flirtation with National Socialism. It happened to be a benevolent Roosevelt, not a malevolent Hitler, but that’s what it was. “

  44. phil says:

    @Oarfish – Nice quote, I’ve always got time for Mr Cooke, though given the overwelmingly negative connotations surrounding national socialism, and the fact you were using as a criticism, my Godwin’s invocation still stands.

    According to the law of the internet, you can launch a formal appeal, though to initiate it you must get three firsties on Youtube.

  45. MacBeth says:

    You don’t get threads like this on… well, anywhere else.

    Carry on. And I want to play dhex’s game too.

  46. phil says:

    @macbeth – it is pleasant to discuss politics in a public forum without seemingly erecting a moron conductor isn’t it?

    Also, @dhex, it would take some work but how about reskinning link to en.wikipedia.org ?

  47. Maximum Fish says:

    As much as i dislike absolutely every major American news network, i think i’d start up an armed resistance movement (call it the NSF?) before i’d pay to subsidize them. Cold dead fingers and all that.

    Also, I don’t subscribe to the notion that ‘it’s not bias (or propaganda) if you’re right’, or similarly that it at least can be somehow a necessary evil . This seemed to be the unspoken mantra of ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, which though still a very well done movie, eagerly promoted the idea of activism journalism. It’s a pretty freaky concept if you ask me, as the media represents possibly the largest uncentralized and unclaimed powerbase in the modern world. From entertainment to journalism, the ‘cultural truths’ and zeitgeist (often unintentionally, so far) created by mass media can start wars or end them, kill off tens of thousands, tear down governments or prop them up, lead to financial ruin, and far more. It’s all been done.

    That anyone thinks they can or should ‘use this power for good’, is pretty chilling in my opinion, I don’t care if i agree with them or not. And especially if they’re ultra-rich celebrities who’s limited worldview distills every aspect of immensly complex world events into some sort of contrived morality play.

    And while were on Noam Chomsky, he comes off like he just hopped a free flight from Decent City on K-Pax and is aghast and sputtering at the realities he finds down on planet earth. I think the man just needs to come to terms.

  48. dhex says:

    Also, @dhex, it would take some work but how about reskinning link to en.wikipedia.org ?

    ok i like where this is going – jackson all up on his horse…wait, did they have snipers back then?

    hmmm…it seems as though the anti-masons will have to invent sniping.

  49. Grandstone says:

    Maximum Fish’s comment prompts me to plug a textbook I’ve had to read this year: The Elements of Journalism. It’s clearly modeled on The Elements of Style, it’s about as short, and it makes a pretty good case for journalism’s purpose as the backbone of a functioning democracy. It all started with a massive survey of (if memory serves, mostly American) journalists, and it uses the results to great effect. Go to the library and give it a read.

    I mention it only because it makes the incidental argument that bias is not the objectively horrible bogeyman most people make it out to be, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the accurate reporting of the truth, to which journalism has its fundamental obligation.

  50. phil says:

    @Maximum Fish, rather than K-PAX I’ve always thought of Chomsky as a similarly unworldly, though conversely furious, old testament prophet. The tone of his writing (if not his physical presense) suggests an tendency towards smiting.

    Equally, I think the dangers of an over mighty forth estate are dwarfed by one muzzled by either editorial and self censourship (you can only have so many stories spiked before you either cease trying or get fired) or ever greater fragmentation of the market.

    By fragmentation I mean an end to collectively recognised legtimate news sources; a process that can be empowering, democratic and produce truly useful journalism, but also leads to hediously disorted facts and people never being confronted by a reality that contradicts their world view. With so much noise the signal gets lost.