- Sir, the Gamers Are Revolting!
Thursday, October 27, 2005
By Chris Kohler
For Ivan Marovic, video games are serious business.
- As one of the founders of the Serb
student-resistance group Otpor ("resistance"), Marovic helped remove
former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from power. Since
then, he has worked with the International Center on Nonviolent
Conflict, or ICNC, helping human rights activists to organize
This year, Marovic and ICNC will add another training tool to their
arsenal: a computer game called A Force More Powerful,
which teaches players the strategy of nonviolent conflict.
"Young people grew up with video games," said Marovic, "and they
take the medium seriously."
The game doesn't require an itchy trigger finger or keen hand-to-eye
coordination; rather, it relies entirely on strategy. As well as
historical recreations, players can set up their own scenarios,
based on their own situation on the ground, and experiment with
different nonviolent strategies. The game's artificial intelligence
calculates the results.
"You start with just a couple of students under your control, so you
plan parties and meetings, working within society to build up the
strength of your group," said BreakAway CEO Douglas Whatley,
outlining one possible game scenario.
"You have to worry about your organization," he continued. "Do you
set up a hierarchal organization, or a cell-based one? Who is the
best figurehead for the media? What kind of training do people need?
And if you march on the capital without proper controls, things may
turn violent, which will harm your cause. These are the things
people can learn."
"You can have a 'what if' approach," Marovic said. "Play the same
game several times, but try different things every time. You can't
do that with books. This interaction makes a player spend more time
with a game than with a movie. Weeks, instead of hours."
A Force More Powerful is the follow-up to a PBS documentary on the
history of nonviolent resistance that aired in 2000. Last year, the
documentary's producers asked Marovic, a self-confessed "computer
geek," to help BreakAway create a game version.
"The idea was to use the game to transfer knowledge about nonviolent
action," said Marovic. "The game can help more than movies and books
because activists can simulate different situations and try
different strategies before they try them in real life."
Marovic sees games as a weapon of change, and so does
Games. For the last few years, the Maryland-based developer has been
a leader in what it calls "serious games."
The company has worked closely with various arms of the Department
of Defense to create military training and war-game simulations, and
has also worked with health care professionals to develop Code
Orange, a game that helps doctors learn to manage mass-casualty
"The logical extension of this," said BreakAway President Deb
Tillett, "is that through our work with ICNC, we can help people
change their repressive regimes."
A Force More Powerful will initially be distributed on CD,
accompanied by extensive documentation and research material on
nonviolent resistance. ICNC's aim is to sell the title to gamers in
the United States, but distribute it free to international groups.
"Every group thinks that it is the one that needs freedom the most,
and that their country is most in need of a pro-democracy movement,"
said Marovic. "The good thing about this game is that it can reach
all of them at the same time, even if trainers like me can't."