Social Movements: The Video Game

The U.S. military is on to something.   For recruitment and training purposes it has created video arcades, advertisements embedded in video games, combat simulators, and its own popular series of first-person shooter game, America’s Army. Your 13 year-old could join the Allied forces in Call of Duty, NATO’s counterterrorism unit in Rainbow Six, or U.S. Navy SEALs in SOCOM. The list goes on. Of course video games can be used to recruit and train. So why aren’t activists doing it?

People Power: News ItemsThankfully, they are. Brought to you by the makers of A Force More Powerful (the book and the movie), People Power: The Game of Civil Resistance puts you in control of your own social movement. For ten bucks you could be playing in five minutes. The games creators describe it this way:

“As a leader of a popular movement you fight against tough adversaries who control the police, the army and bureaucracy, even the media. The only weapon in your hand is your strategic skill and ingenuity.”

This is a strategy game. It unfolds day by day and, like most social movement campaigns, it takes a long, long time. It’s not the action packed first-person shooter game your 13 year-old is playing. You’ll need patience. You’ll also need to mobilize money and endorsements, attract new recruits, choose tactics, develop strategies region by region, analyze social networks, and monitor your group’s legitimacy, cohesion, and momentum. The game comes preloaded with five scenarios (e.g., a pro-recycling campaign, an ethnic-nationalist movement) and, should you want to use it for a real campaign, a scenario builder for designing your own plot and setting.

So, is it fun? According to one undergraduate political science major, People Power is a mixed bag. He concludes,

“The game’s main drawback main fault is that it also becomes very repetitive, basically issuing the same orders over and over again until you achieve victory…I don’t believe that it is immersive or interesting enough to keep one engaged.”

People Power: NetworksI agree. It lacks the action and nail-biting battle of wits to draw in new recruits. As a training tool, however, it has promise. It illustrates the sorts of considerations activists should be aware of and might serve as a springboard for discussions of goals and strategy in their own campaigns. For those who teach social movement courses, I recommend waiting for the next generation of social movement video games.  In the meantime, in the battle for your child’s attention, I think the Army currently has the edge.

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