Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 07/03/2012

simulations miscellany, 6 March 2012

Some recent gaming news that caught our eye here at PAXsims…

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At Foreign Policy Magazine, Michael Peck offers five reasons why video games are lousy propaganda. His piece spins off from the ongoing saga of American ex-Marine/ex-game designer Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, whose espionage conviction (and death sentence) in Iran has now been sent for judicial review, but the issues he raises are much broader:

Who could blame a CIA spymaster for pondering whether games could be used to demonize Iran or vilify Venezuela? And who says that only governments could do this? One can imagine interest groups surreptitiously funding a game in which environmentalists are portrayed as lunatics or ecoterrorists, or where characters casually mention that America needs to drill for oil. With product placement already a feature of video games, political messaging is inevitable.

Yet before gamers see men in black lurking behind every virtual shadow, let’s put down the Mountain Dew and take a deep breath. Video games have significant drawbacks as purveyors of propaganda.

I’m not entirely sure I agree. Leaving aside the Hekmati issue (which we’ve discussed before at PAXsims), I do think that digital games can play a potential role in politically influencing a player in ways intended by a designer. I don’t necessarily think, however, that the way to do this is through major software releases with high development costs, but rather through something rather less expensive and ambitious.

A case in point might be the online “budget simulator” that the government of British Columbia has released in order to inform citizens about the challenges of balancing the provincial budget. That simulation has subsequently been criticized by some for its presumptions and the editorial comments it offers on player choices, with political opponents labelling it as a “propaganda exercise” intended to build public support for the government’s preferred fiscal approach. (h/t to Brian Train for pointing out both the simulation and the subsequent criticism for us.) I rather liked the simulation, but it does seem unlikely that the BC government would have sponsored it if they didn’t feel it would work to their political advantage. Total cost of the simulation: $18,630.

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While on a Michael Peck-related theme, I should mention that Michael had a piece back in January at the Training & Simulation Journal on military simulations in an era of budget cutbacks that we forgot to link to, as well as (another) review of the boardgame Persian Incursion in February. We just can’t keep up with him.

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A GrogNews, Brant Guillory offers some thoughts on the perennial debate over games versus simulations, and their contribution(s) to education and training—complete with diagrams, no less! It is all very sensible too.

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Paul Vebber asks the question “how long does it take to put on a wargame?” at Wargaming Connection. Jon Compton then nails it with the right answer in the comments section: “it takes as much time as you have….”

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Electronic Arts has made it official: SimCity will be back. The trailer for the forthcoming version was announced at the 2012 Games Developers Conference this week. You absolutely should never judge a game by the pre-release cinematics, of course—but if they are anything like the eventual game play, it looks great. The game is slated for release in 2013.

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