Playing the News with ‘Endgame Syria’

Syria

Auroch Digital’s new game, called Endgame Syria, encourages players to explore different choices and outcomes in a simulation of the war in Syria. The player chooses political and military options, and the player’s choices have a direct effect on the unfolding conflict in the simulation. Users are encouraged to play and replay the game to see the effects of different paths, and to experience different choices. The goal of the developers, and of GameTheNews.net, is to bring issues in the news to an audience not reached by traditional news outlets, and, by asking players to take on a role and experience the outcome of their choices, to engage with this story beyond the headlines.

The conflict in Syria may seem like an unusual theme for a videogame. It’s certainly far removed from themes in popular games like Angry Birds or Temple Run, but we shouldn’t overlook the value of a simulation to educate and inform. For example, Kognito Interactive’s Family of Heroes uses game characters and simulated social situations to help returning soldiers and their families learn to manage PTSD. Players are asked to interact with characters suffering from PSTD to learn coping strategies and behaviors to be applied outside the game. Brenda Brathwaite’s tabletop game Train is a board game about the Holocaust. Train tasks players with moving as many people to a destination as quickly as possible, with the end realization that the destination is Auschwitz. Putting players in the unusual role of a Nazi official, a common villain in videogames, forces players to connect more emotionally with history textbook situation. And let’s not forget Star Trek’s Kobayashi Maru simulation for teaching cadets in the future about dealing with an unwinnable situation.

Endgame Syria is a part of GameTheNews.net, a collection of game developers creating games based on real-world events. GameTheNews.net uses rapid prototyping development to create timely, relevant serious games in response to real-world events. They’ve also developed Coconut Sunshine, a citysim about alternative energy, and Save The Rhino, a game about poachers, and other games directly inspired by news headlines. Our industry’s come a long way since edu games like Oregon Trail.

Endgame Syria was developed in two weeks, which is a great success for rapid development fans, and takes great advantage of the speedy game-jam-style collaboration and prototyping. Even in two weeks, the designer needed to modify Endgame Syria to more accurately respond to news stories coming in and changes in the situation in Syria. But I’m not convinced that two weeks is sufficient time to develop a game that treats the subject with the nuance it deserves. In any medium, a serious topic deserves serious treatment, and games are no exception. The app store has dozens (maybe hundreds?) of derivative, underwhelming games that take an existing mechanic and add buzzwords and icons on top. This is pretty annoying when the end result is a branded match-3, but just dropping some names of Syrian locations and tank models into a generic shooter could be really insensitive in a game about an ongoing war.

Endgame Syria is currently available for Droid on Google Play and on GameTheNews.net website as a HTML5 game. An iOs version is in the works as well. I’d be really interested in hearing others’ thoughts on this game.




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