Gaming the News
The people behind Game The News describe themselves as ‘the world’s first news correspondents who cover global events as games’. In Endgame: Syria, for example, you guide the political and military actions of ‘the rebels in their struggle’. Political events such as ‘Libya has recognised the Syrian National Council’ lead to changes in support for the rebels; troop deployments against the regime’s forces affect the levels of civilian casualties. At the end of each week there’s an instructive epigram: e.g. ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war,’ misattributed to Plato (it was George Santayana). The game ends with one or other side winning, or a peace agreement. Simplistic and partial it may be, but no more so perhaps than many other news sources. More troubling is the way it apes regular combat games: in the ‘military phase’, you’re informed of new civilian casualties to the accompaniment of exciting explosions (then again, the TV news has been doing that for years too).
The other games on the site struggle to find a balance between playability and didacticism. Climate Defense obliquely acknowledges this by offering two modes of play, one in which the data has been altered to make the game more enjoyable (and it’s possible to prevent climate change), the other where the problems are more realistic – and insoluble.
The only game that really works is My Cotton Picking Life, a response to the news that Uzbekistan uses forced labour for its cotton harvest. The dullness and monotony of the game are the whole point: it takes as long to pick a day’s quota of cotton in the game as it does in the fields (though the simulation is obviously a lot less backbreaking than the real thing). I challenge anyone to keep clicking at it for more than 15 seconds.