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A video game for peace?

 

While violent video games cannot be blamed for all the violence in real life, it is nevertheless a fact that armed groups and militaries all around the world are in fact using them to recruit and train fighters. This got us thinking, if it works for promoting violence - why can’t it work to promote peace?

More than half a billion people worldwide play video games at least an hour a day, with 183 million in the U.S. alone. It might be difficult to believe, but a young person actually racks up to 10,000 hours playing video games by the age of 21. More than half of the games rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board contain violence, out of which 90% are inappropriate for the younger audience. Battles, guns, wars, villains and mayhem. Let's face it, a lot of games are made so that the player can kill aliens, creatures, monsters and even fellow humans. Having a variety of weapons is a huge selling point. So, there we are, right in the middle of the main challenge we are facing: How can we reach out to an audience that favors violent video games as a pastime and views lectures about conflict resolution as plain ol’ boring...

More specifically, how can we engage Middle Eastern youth in our work? A crucial, yet truly hard to reach audience. Crucial, because of the huge role youth play as agents of sustainable peace and because they represent the future of a region recently plunged in severe political turmoil. Hard to reach, because traditional and over-politicized media have long lost credibility in their eyes and because traditional peacebuilding activities are not appealing to them. When confronted with the number of hours spent by youth playing video games (our own research revealed that the situation in Lebanon is no different from the above picture, with 95% of the youth currently playing video games), we started to think that packaging our message in a fun video game might in fact be the ideal tool for creating positive social change amongst them. While more traditional peacebuilding activities tend to reach the usual suspects and preach to the choir, a video game would allow us to reach out to everyone, IF we are smart enough to convey our message in a fun and entertaining way.

That IF is in fact of crucial importance. We are well aware that typically games that aim to be educational are just boring with a capital B. People who produce “educational” or “serious” games may have their hearts in the right place, but sometimes they become too enthusiastic about the messages they want to deliver and forget the one most crucial element - fun. When the educational part takes over and it is not fun anymore, then the whole purpose of using a video game is lost. Therefore, we teamed up with a group of veteran game developers who have worked on big games like Age of Conan and Assassin’s Creed.

That is how Cedaria: Blackout was born.

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