Newspapers, Rituals and Games
Growing up, a distinct memory I have is running down the stairs of my home in India to the view of my grandfather reading big sheets of newspaper. I sit down next to him and rubbing my eyes we talk about the headlines of the day. All through middle school and high school this morning ritual has helped me with friendly debates and creating consensus with my friends whenever we attempt to understand the world outside of our sheltered playground.
There is something powerful about few people sitting together with their past experiences and albeit limited facts, trying to construct a paradigm together of what and how a particular issue or event affects them independently and as a unit. For this to happen, there are three key factors — sitting together, past experiences & facts. Two of which are relatively easy to accomplish, one feels most comfortable with a group he/she is familiar with such as family or friends. Dissipating facts is fairly simple as well — a numbered list, a tweet or a sheet of paper would do. The hardest is creating an experience, some sort of inherent understanding. One’s experience also affects how one relates to any given facts. In the fast moving world, how could we scaffold an experience in a relatively short time?
Could games be the solution? A game with its complex system and narrative qualities can attempt to provide the scaffold to help players experience the subject matter in a swift yet novel manner. Bycatch is one such exploration that aids its players with facts about remote warfare. A card game played between 3–5 players, Bycatch creates a world where players represent nations who face threats to their national security and their cell phones represent the drones at their disposal. The game mechanics allow one to feel first hand the improbability of getting a clear footage of a suspect and the complexity of the decisions that follow. The facts about drone warfare are sewn into the fabric of the game through the imagery, narrative and incentive structure allowing the players to engage with it in their own comfort and pace.
Inspired by this Guardian article about Pakistani children preferring cloudy days since only then are their skies free of drones, the core of the game revolves around the efficiency of remote surveillance and the margin of error in information gathered through drones. Players rely on information from surveillance, leaks and other access points to make decisions. As a social game, Bycatch guides players to be aware of each other’s inclinations and quirks to locate weak targets and potential threats. The players are essentially playing two games, one based on written rules, the other on intuitive social dynamics. Individually and as a group, players have to navigate the successes or failures of unverified strikes, false surveillance and collateral damage.
A recent study says out if 1.2 million American web users only 4% are active news consumers. As the world moves farther away from traditional forms of news media, hybrid medium such as games could play an important part in helping shape our critical thinking processes about complex political subject matters. Games could foster the ritual of small groups of people casually discussing current affairs. Bycatch is a drop in a larger ocean to be explored.