The Gamification of War

Less than a month ago, Israel’s IDF took flak for gamifying its war blog, issuing badges and points for sharing its content across social media.

Now, a new free HTML5 and mobile game allows you to play out the conflict unfolding in Syria. Called Endgame: Syria, you take on the role of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. It’s meant to shed light on issues few of us understand in great detail. Venture Beat discusses the game, its ramifications, and its role as part of the larger Game The News Project.

War as a theme is consistent throughout the history of gaming. From strategy games to first-person shooters, chess to Call of Duty. It’s all about conflict and politics. It’s about winning.

A step further and we get America’s Army – a game that’s still going strong in its third major iteration – long seen as more recruitment tool for the US military than casual distraction.

Now, what’s changing seems to be the immediacy and relevance of depicted battles. In an age where Twitter, Google, and Facebook are playing key roles in conflicts and revolutions, the world has access to information and details while they are happening. While shooting your way through a recreated World War II game environment is clearly different than having been there, how far from reality is a game that uses current events and data? Is it glorification or information? Is it still about winning, or more about understanding?

There are organizations – including as the Serious Games Institute and the Serious Games Association – advocating the use of gaming and virtual world platforms to educate and train people for emergency, health care, and survival situations. Use popular tools, those organizations say, to change the world for the better.

Why I’m Curious

Games, like any other form of media, are influenced by society and, in turn, influence society. We have unprecedented access to information, but limited time. We are hungry for information, but don’t always know how to process it.

Does the Syria game, as the latest example, desensitize players to the brutalities of war and conflict, or open up a bigger conversation, get information out to the masses, and offer another way in to find solutions? Do we have a responsibility to build experiences that educate if they touch on hot topic social issues?

I’m curious because I want to help build and use emerging technologies that enhance the stories happening around us, right now, and in the near future.

I’m a bigger fan of understanding than winning – though the first usually informs the second.


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