Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Apple and politically-provocative game apps

PAXsims readers may remember that earlier this year Apple rejected a Syria-based current affairs games app for its online store on the grounds that it was, well, too current affairs. Consequently the game designers have apparently now decided to relaunch the game by deleting all the references to Syria.

Michael Peck at Forbes has more on the story:

Remember “Endgame: Syria”, the iOS newsgame on the ongoing Syrian civil war, that the Apple store rejected because it covered a real war by real nations instead of the usual silly made-up wars in most games.

I wish I could say that Apple changed its mind. But it’s more accurate to say that the game’s publisher, UK-based Auroch Digital, found a way to humor the humorless iBureaucrats. “Endgame: Syria” has been repackaged as “Endgame: Eurasia”, which is pretty much the same game except that the name “Syria” has been removed along with references to specific groups such as the Free Syrian Army or Hezbollah.

“We’ve come to the end of three rejections and one appeal and the only way we’ve been able to get Endgame: Syria out on iOS was to remove all references to the real world and sadly that changes it from a ‘newsgame’ into just a ‘game’,” developer Tomas Rawlings announced in a press release. “We’ve released this game version so at least players with Apple devices can get a feel for what we originally intended for the platform.”

Rawlings told me that “the Eurasia game is the same structure as Endgame:Syria, but we’re replaced the images of that identify Syria, such as the flag with fictional ones and all the locations are replaced with places from out-of copyright fictional locations, for example Eurasia is from 1984.”

“Endgame: Syria” is still available for Android on Google Play  and for the PC on GameJolt. It has been recently updated to include Scud missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

“Endgame: Syria” is not a high-fidelity political-military simulation of a very complicated civil war that even real governments and experts can’t figure out how to resolve. But it is laudable that the publishers at least have tried to enhance the public’s understanding of current events through games. If only Apple were as open-minded, or less fearful of offending dictators.

Recently Apple also also rejected Sweatshop HD, a sweatshop-themed game. As Pocket Gamer reports:

According to UK developer Littleloud,Sweatshop HD is an iPad game that “challenged people to think about the origin of the clothes we buy”.

But it has now been removed from Apple’s online marketplace. Why? Well, because the App Store gatekeeper was “uncomfortable selling a game based around the theme of running a sweatshop”.

Littleloud’s game was a skewed spin on tower defence games, where you put together a production line to churn out designer shoes and baseball caps for brands like “CryMark”.

But to keep costs down, it paid to ignore a few basic human rights, hire cheap labourers, and treat your underage workforce with only a modicum of respect.

If you can stomach the paralysing guilt of mistreating your virtual workers, you’ll bring in cash and ace the level.

We called it a “superbly crafted combination of tower defence game and management sim that’s consistently thought-provoking, yet never heavy-handed” in our PG Silver Award review.

The game was released in November 2012, but it was removed earlier this year.

Littleloud’s head of games, Simon Parkin, told Pocket Gamer that “Apple removed Sweatshop from the App Store last month stating that it was uncomfortable selling a game based around the theme of running a sweatshop.”

“Apple specifically cited references in the game to clothing factory managers ‘blocking fire escapes’, ‘increasing work hours for labour’, and issues around the child labour as reasons why the game was unsuitable for sale.”

“Littleloud amended the app to clarify that Sweatshop is a work of fiction and was created with the fact-checking input of charity Labor Behind the Label, and to emphasise that the game doesn’t force players to play the game in one way or another. Rather, Sweatshop is a sympathetic examination of the pressures that all participants in the sweatshop system endure.”

“Sadly, these clarifications and changes weren’t enough to see the game reinstated for sale.”

So, if you want to experience it, you’ll have to play the free Flash version.

Apple declined our offer to comment on the story.

2 responses to “Apple and politically-provocative game apps

  1. brtraini 22/03/2013 at 1:38 pm

    I just saw this at the Game The News website. Love the Orwellian references. Don’t you know we’ve always been at war with Eurasia?

    These games seem a bit superficial but at any rate they do spur interest in the topic. Interesting comment on using videogames to augment journalism by Sean Holman (one of the best political journalists in BC) here:

  2. Robert 22/03/2013 at 6:32 pm

    Streisand effect. If not for Apple’s rejection of the game from the App Store, I doubt half as many people would have heard of it.

    I tried the game out on my Android way back when (oddly enough, the Google Play store now says it is not compatible with my phone despite the fact that I’ve previously installed it). It leaves much to be desired as a simulation, but I think it is more important for the implications of “walled gardens” we are now seeing pop up.

    Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft now all have their own major “app” markets with various restrictions. Microsoft at one point intended to make Games for Windows Live a prerequisite to installing and playing games on Windows 8, but I believe they backed away from that. Android does not require apps be installed from the Play Store, but an app not being listed in it certainly has a negative effect on its visibility to potential users. The recent SimCity debacle was the result of a game publisher attempting to assert total control over a singleplayer game (it didn’t help that the city simulation was apparently broken from the start).

    Since one of the major benefits of simulations is the educational role they can play, I find the idea of software being developed under increasing restrictions to be very troubling. In this case, I’m sure Apple had no ideological stance on the developer’s representation of the Syrian conflict, but it sets a creeping precedent for companies to stifle simulations they disagree with.

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