Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

People Power

Some time ago we reviewed A Force More Powerful here on PAXsims, a serious game developed in conjunction with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict to educate about civilian-based, non-military strategies to establish and defend democracy and human rights. Unfortunately we were less than impressed—while the game was an interesting attempt to address some interesting issues, Gary just didn’t feel it was a very engaging play experience.

While AFMP is no longer being updated or supported, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict has been working with game developers on another computer game, People Power: The Game of Civil Resistance.

People Power is about politics, about strategy and about social change. As a leader of a popular movement you fight against tough adversaries who control the police, the army and bureaucracy, even the media. The only weapon in your hand is your strategic skill and ingenuity.

People Power is more than a game. It’s an opportunity to join a community of others who want to learn about civil resistance and nonviolent strategies. Everyone can design scenarios and post them on the scenario page, available to the whole community. With this first edition, you are invited to participate in our ‘Open Beta’ phase of development. Play the game, then send us your comments, suggestions, and criticism. You will become part of the team, working to improve the game and make it more useful to more players. On our Forum, you can exchange ideas with other players and scenario writers.

While People Power retains some of the elements of the new game (researching the political context, analyzing social networks to build support, assigning activists to task, and so forth), it also differs in many respects too. Gone is the old city setting, and indeed most of the fancier graphics. The game also has a more open architecture, allowing users to more easily author their own scenarios. the game also runs on both PCs and Macs.

On this occasion, we’ve assigned the review to an in-house special reviewer (that is to say, literally in my house): undergraduate political science student and avid computer game player David Brynen.

People Power is easy to use. It has a simple interface. The tutorial is rather wordy, yet effective and covers all the important features in the game. The game itself is mainly scheduling different orders (tactics) and then checking how much momentum they generate,  as well as their effect on the general population and certain individuals whom you may be trying to influence. For more specificity the player can view demographics of different regions, to see where some tactics would be best used. Strangely I found that some tactics seemed to have the same outcome regardless, with concerts, picketing and protests usually the most successful.

A nice touch is the different personalities and various backgrounds of the characters. For example, certain characters are better at giving speeches and dealing directly with the public, while others may be better at organizing events.

Certain tactics such as concerts can be used an unlimited amount which seemed quite unrealistic (holding a concert to raise awareness over recycling, or organizing a large protest outside a garbage contractor everyday or every few days is unrealistic, yet very effective in the game). Instead, it would be better to allow only a limited number of important events to use each month.

The game’s main drawback main fault is that it also becomes very repetitive, basically issuing the same orders over and over again until you achieve victory  (which isn’t always outlined well and seems to take a VERY long time to achieve).

I started out quite impressed and motivated by People Power’s tutorial story. Unfortunately, after the first 10 turns or so, the game started to get very repetitive. It often seemed that 90% of the game was clicking between three things; ordering your volunteers and agents to do various tasks like fundraising or write letters asking for support; checking to see your actions overall impact; and finally seeing whether or not your actions have influenced any individuals or organizations to support your cause, which was in my case to pass municipal recycling legislation. In addition, the game seems to drag on an awfully long time with very few changes. Although I once had my group’s momentum’s meter at 96 (out of 100) and the regime’s viability below 50, I did not receive any kind of reward or feedback marking my process.

Overall I would not recommend this game to a class, in large part due because the repetition takes away from the game’s political and educational motives. I don’t believe that it is immersive or interesting enough to keep one engaged, and after awhile it feels robotic to just go through the scenario’s motions of clicking to give your volunteers orders, clicking the “next turn” button and checking to see the results hundreds of times.

David Brynen

The game does a good job, it must be said, of offering the user useful description of the strengths and weaknesses of the various options in real world settings, even if the immediate impact on game play isn’t always obvious. According the the website the game is still in its “open Beta” version, which means that perhaps some of these issues of immersiveness, player engagement, and motivation will be addressed in later versions.

2 responses to “People Power

  1. Old Matey 18/12/2011 at 2:01 pm

    Having read the above comment, I devoted about 48 hours to this game and beat the Amessian Dictatorship level… Do I get a prize? Guess not… =)

    I’m not in a position to say if its realistic or not as a trainer, but I found it pretty addictive as a rather complex text game.

    In response to the review, I found the last quarter of the game (nation wide strikes, protests, concerts, etc.) to be worth all the repetition. You have to get the regime’s credibility to pretty much zero while maintaining 100 percent credibility.

    I got the game for free with the OWS code, but I would definitely shell out 10 dollars for a version with a better GUI and a few extra offensive moves. Things like sitting in the street, occupying public space with tents (!), and as the reviewer said, automation of certain tasks if you want them to be repeated.

    I really enjoyed it though. Hope the project continues strong.

  2. Skip Cole 08/08/2011 at 12:58 am

    Thanks Brynens for this review!

    I think this also lights a path to how this game could be made more playable: if the player could automate some tasks, or leave ‘standing orders’ then it might become more palatable to a wider audience.

    I have always thought of this software as more of a solo-trainer for non-violent conflict than a game, and as such, it does not need to be very fun. The very, very serious people who use it to help plan what they are going to do in the real world will use it regardless. For example, to paraphrase Steve York, the people in Egypt who played this game told him that they could ‘never win the game, but they won the revolution.’

    But to reach a broad audience, a future version of this game will need to be more fun to play. I think you have left great advice here, and I’ll do what I can to contact the makers of this game with this information.

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