Do violent games have a role to play in promoting peace? Will Freeman speaks to charity War Child about what they think
Video games have a troubled relationship with war. As a subject matter, conflict has brought us cultural behemoths like Call of Duty, and all the money and employment such titles have made. In its early days, war brought developers and players a familiar subject matter around which to build some of the medium’s founding mechanics.
Yet games have never quite shaken an association with celebrating – and even stimulating – real world violence. Military-themed games have always struggled to be seen as ‘anti-war’, while some of the most violent films have succeeded in that regard.
All of which makes it rather curious that War Child – a non-government organisation that addresses the impact of conflict on children – has embraced video games as a means to deliver its message. The charity specialises in three areas; child protection, education and livelihoods, the latter referring to establishing sustainable opportunities for communities.
“What we do, with the gaming industry specifically, is raise funds for the work that we do across all our the regions,” explains Wayne Emanuel, corporate development manager for gaming at War Child UK. “Games can provide fundraising, but also awareness, so a campaign like Armistice, allowed us to do both.”
We’re looking to collaborate with more studios for 2017
Wayne Emanuel, War Child UK
A GAMING ARMISTICE
The Armistice campaign, launched in November 2016, uses ‘mechanisms and activations’ within games to inspire donations and share War Child’s message of educating and protecting children living in the horrific reality of modern combat zones.
“The idea of Armistice was to reach out to the gaming industry – and more specifically games with violence at their core. The idea was to pacify those games for a short period of time,” Emanuel says. “Developers were really keen to get on board, which was fantastic.”
This resulted in deals with World of Tanks creator Wargaming.net and Blackmail, which developed Verdun, as well as iNK Stories and Positech Games, designers of 1979 Revolution: Black Friday and Democracy 3 respectively.
iNK and Positech donated game revenues, while drawing attention to their existing themes to engage users to think about parallels between gameplay and conflict in reality.
WWI shooter Verdun went a stage further, recreating the famous Christmas truce of the First World War’s trenches. For a limited time, Verdun’s shooter gameplay was replaced with the ability to play football, exchange Christmas cards, and indulge in snowball fights.
The initiative included Twitch challenges, asking streamers to beat games through pacifism when conflict is the default. War Child has seen a hugely positive reaction to the roll out of Armistice, and want more involvement from games makers.
A CALL TO ARMS
“We’re looking to collaborate with more studios for 2017, and make Armistice a bigger thing,” Emanuel reveals. “We want to get more studios on board, and use that to engage more people. Raising awareness and donations for the work we do is really important.
“With a War Child project in Jordan, we actually using technology and games to educate children,” Emanuel reveals. “Using tablets and e-learning there, we’re teaching children basic literacy and numeracy through games. If you’ve been displaced, you often won’t have access to teachers and resources, and these children aren’t going to school.”
War Child is ambitious, hoping to reach 37,000 children through game- based education over three years. And what’s more, where appropriate War Child is trying to employ local Jordanian devs to produce content.
War Child is keen to work on an individual basis with game studios interested in tweaking their games to support the efforts of the NGO.
“We’re really open to ideas from studios,” Emanuel asserts. “What they feel would work for them and also their audience is really important. And we continue to look at ways to work with streamers and how they can help fundraise for what we do.” Interested developers are urged to make contact with War Child.