The Revolution will be Played

I’ve been catching up on world events this weekend, and I’m fascinated with the response to the Iranian election, specifically, the Twitter response.  In a sense, Twitter has been vindicated as a medium  (BTW, it seems like Andrew Sullivan and Nico are the best sources right now for news from within Iran).  What once was seen as a frivolous media after India and now Iran is now seen as world-changing.  And it got me thinking – what can we learn?  It seems the biggest lesson is – information mediums can seem frivolous if people want to use them for frivolous things, but their true tests come in times of crisis.

So why aren’t games on the front-lines too?  There’s probably a billion people out there right now hungry for more information, a more personal connection to the conflict, or wanting to help one side or another in some way.  This video on the streets of Iran certainly seems like it’s straight out of a first-person game, heavy breathing included.  These standoffs for all the world look like real-time strategy games.  The organizing and political decision-making behind the scenes certainly qualifies.  Organizing large numbers of people for support is definitely a game.  But that big Iran election game hasn’t happened yet, and it hasn’t happened in previous world events.  Peacemaker is an excellent example, and it never made it big.  Why?  I can think of several obvious factors:

  1. Time and Money – Game development’s biggest foe.  We just aren’t this fast – big games take years to develop with 30-300 people.  While the 1979 Iranian revolution lasted for almost a year, the bar goes up the longer you delay.  See Twitter.  To counter this, we need things like better time or fortuitous planning and prep work, or concepts that are just simpler to execute.
  2. Direction – What exactly would such a game be about?  Who is it appealing to? What is it trying to accomplish?  Without being able to iterate design concepts easily (see #1), and spam the market with ideas, the topic and “sell” becomes even more critical.
  3. Realism – How realistic does it have to be?  Realism takes a lot of time and money too.  If the game is about capturing the moment, that can put the development out of practical reach.
  4. Fun Factor – How fun does it have to get people playing?  The always-excellent Michael Abbot wrote on this topic after the Games for Change conference, how the conflict between serious topics and need for engagement still confounds game developers.  Until we can master this problem, it will be hard to be relevant.

Not every medium about immediacy.  Take books, for example.  The books about Iran will come out in the next months, if not years.  But when they do they will add to the conversation.  And they will be a relatively minor blip in people’s lives.  If we want to be taken seriously, one path is to have a serious impact on major events.  It can all change in a week.

Why aren’t games on the front-lines  Why aren’t games on the front-lines too?  So too?
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