While the Jury is still out on whether video games actually have a tendency to make young adults more violent and/or display violent tendencies, it is generally agreed that video games do impact and leave an imprint on minds. Since the late 1960's articles have been published regarding the use of simulations and games in the classroom. These mainly dealt with role-play and personal interaction games, there were a few that involved the use of computers but the machines of the time were so large and bulky that their use was neither effective nor efficient. An important development that did come out of this era was the term “Serious Games”. This term was coined by Clark Abt to differentiate between games played for fun and those used to train or educate. As time has passed and technology has grown, the term “Serious Games” has developed with this trend and now refers to functional video games and simulators.
Though video games as explicit means of peace education do not form an established genre in the gaming world, some mainstream games have been developed that reward peaceful means of conflict resolution and penalize violent behavior. For example, video game Civilization tasks the user with building a thriving civilization from the ground up, but the user is penalized if major violence and riots occur in the user’s civilization. Even popular Action-Adventure Role Playing Games (RPGs) like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, and Dishonored etc have an in-game morality system that rewards users for taking good/peaceful decisions. It should be also noted that not all the games with the “morality system” named previously actually punish you or for that matter display effective consequences for being “bad”. There are also games like the critically acclaimed Spec Ops: The Line, which deal with concepts of repercussions of military actions and usage of chemical weapons, including putting the Protagonist face to face with the graphic dead bodies of innocent civilians accidentally killed by the Protagonist, using White Phosphorus, while also dealing with effects of PTSD. Other games like the 2007 video game PeaceMaker, tasks the user with taking one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and implementing a peaceful two-state solution, all the while being challenged by realistic events occurring during the user’s play.
Paul Darvasi, who is a teacher at Royal St George’s College, in a report commissioned by UNESCO MGIEP, focused on academic studies into how so-called “serious games” can alter perspectives and create cognitive empathy. “Perspective-taking helps negotiate social complexities, diminish biases, improve inter-group attitudes, and encourage a view of out groups as more self-like,” states the report. “The potential to positively impact attitudes with digital games is not only rooted in their ability to grant perspective, but also in their potency as instruments of persuasion.” UNESCO MGIEP has also made some games which attempt to build empathy among its players, like World Rescue and Cantor’s World. However, there has been a curtail element lacking in the academic research done till date and the games created.
To simplify the problem which stops such “Peace Education” games from popular, is that all the existing research is from an academic view point and all attempts are in the form of “serious games.” With Peace Educators and Academicians and experts involved, the opinions of Young Gamer’s as to why they play certain games is generally missed out. Peace Education need not come in form of serious game simulation which clearly feel like they are trying to teach your something.
Gamers don’t play a game cause they intend to learn something new from it, they play for the different experience the game would give them, something set aside from their normal lives. The learning happens automatically as a part of the gaming journey.
Gamers play for an immersive and challenging experience. Whether you consider RPGs, First Person Shooters (FPSs) or Strategy Games, all games can be broadly divided into realistic games with real world elements, and outlandish/fantasy games. But even some of the most outlandish/fantasy based popular games which the key element of immersion. An element which really gets the player into the skin of the protagonist, and actually makes them care about in-game decisions, and learning about the consequences of their decisions, without it seeming like a simulation specifically aimed to teach them. Instead of trying to teach academic concepts or even concepts like empathy through a linear situational game play method, a game which lets the Player learn his way, experience and understand the consequences of their action, and the need for peace and empathy though in-game outcomes and not in-game messages, would have a far wider reach and impact. It would be wrong to thing that violence is the only thing that lures Gamers. Popular games have a lot of reasons for their popularity from aesthetics like graphics and game-play mechanisms, to a heightened sense of challenge. There is no great challenge than establishing and maintaining peace in today’s world.
To summarize, we need to stop trying to “Educate using Games”, and start making “Games which Educate”.
The approach till date has so focused into incorporating elements of Peace Education, that it may have overlooked an attributes which makes some games, really good games, from which people learn even without trying. Also, while games do generally have in-game instructions and training, Gamers more often than not lean by doing and feeling , and not by being told.
Games have an immense potential to be used as means of education in general and Peace Education specifically. Some amazing games like This War of Mine, gets the balance just right. But, there is a lot of room to grow.