Resolving conflict through a… video game?
You may say it’s impossible, but we say we can do it! At SFCG we are always looking for innovative ways to promote conflict transformation and peacebuilding. We know from experience that popular culture is a powerful way of conveying messages such as acceptance of the “other” and tolerance without causing people to doze off in their seats.
This is what we want to achieve with this video game, Cedaria: Blackout. We want to provide youth in the Middle East with a platform to learn and practice how to mediate conflict, solve community problems collaboratively, and understand the perspectives of the “other”. Such skills cannot be acquired in classrooms or in books as they need constant practice and a video game is a much more entertaining way to do so. At a time of escalating violence in the region, we believe that gaming is an effective and innovative tool to reach out to young people and promote non-violent behaviour without being boring or patronizing.
This idea is supported by studies showing that skills learned while playing video games are transferable to real life situations. When players can explore options that go beyond socially accepted norms in a virtual world, they then will be more inclined to replicate similar behaviours in their everyday life.
Lebanon and the Middle East
Living in the Middle East, one can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more initiatives similar to this one. People of all ages own smartphones and use them to play video games. A colleague once mentioned that during the civil war, he and his cousins were “killing” time playing video games and that this became the strongest memory they have of that period of their lives. That’s when we knew we had to turn our idea into reality!
With traditional peacebuilding activities we always tend to reach the usual suspects and preach to the choir, but a video game would allow us to reach everyone if we are smart enough to convey our message in a fun and entertaining way. In the pre-production process we conducted a survey that highlighted how Lebanese youth spend several hours every day playing (often violent) video games. This reinforced our idea that video-games can be very powerful tools for peacebuilding. Plus video games give us another advantage – in a country where young people tend to avoid moving too much between areas they don’t know or are populated by different confessions – by providing a virtual space in which youth from different backgrounds can meet and interact with each other.
However, as a peacebuilding organisation, we know very little about videogames and the whole production process, so in order to make sure to develop a truly entertaining video game we teamed up with some “out-of-the-box” video game developers crazy enough to find our idea a good one. Some of them have worked on violent games such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry but found our project a breath of fresh air as they wanted to dig into the “serious game” world.
So what does it look like?
Educational games are often too focused on getting their message across – leaving little room for entertainment. However, the fun factor is crucial for the game’s success – so the secret lies in finding the right balance. We did so by combining:
- Dialogue designed with the constant feedback of our very own Conflict Resolution specialists to make sure we succeed in teaching youth conflict resolution skills through experience and practice,
- Game scenarios giving players the freedom of choice between cooperative and non-cooperative behaviour — yet letting them experience the consequences of their choices,
- a “steampunk” style in order to have a setting that allows us to explore certain dynamics that are characteristic of the Middle East without breaking the “suspension of disbelief”, and
- Middle Eastern elements so that the players can identify with the game setting.
Where we are
SFCG received funding from the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Beirut to develop the video game. However, in order to complete the game in line with the original vision we need additional funding. To this end we launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.
If you want to help us with this innovative project in the Middle East you can do so by:
1. Helping us spread the word! You can do so for example by:
- liking and commenting on our Facebook page, inviting your friends to like us,
- following us on Twitter, tweeting about us and re-tweeting our tweets,
- watching and commenting on our Youtube videos,
- reading and commenting on our blog, or
- visiting our webpage.
2. Donating to our project. We will run a crowd-funding campaign, in about a one-months time. Please leave you email here, and we will send you the URL once we launch (we’ll only send this one email, no spam – promise!).