NEW YORK In last week’s edition of Le News, we featured the problems arising from excessive “screen” use among young people. Here is a more positive “gaming” approach.
Entertaining millions around the world, online games are part of an industry worth billions of dollars drawing both young and old into ever-more virtual realities. Many families, parents and teachers often find themselves at a loss as to how to prevent gaming from turning into full-blown addiction. The latest games must not only attract, but keep up with an industry moving at breakneck speed to meet the eclectic demands of consumers. This usually entails an archaic understanding of social interaction which discredits the true potential of human creativity and reflection.
Given such disruptive realities, people have thought outside the box to offer more palpable alternatives without losing the excitement. According to Asi Burak, the NY-based president since 2010 of Games for Change, an organization that “catalyses social impact through digital games,” it has adopted an altogether different take on gaming. “The beauty of games is that they are interactive, enabling people to think critically about themselves and the world that surrounds them,” he said. This differs from what many parents and teenagers accept as the status quo of digital gaming. It also reinstates the full scope of human emotion as the centrepiece of gaming experience, where actions have tangible repercussions on player experiences and emotions.
One of the most illustrative examples of this atypical form of gaming is Peacemaker, published in 2007. The game focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and allows players to pick sides. Through exploration and understanding, right or wrong becomes almost irrelevant; the main message lies in the inherent complexity of the situation as opposed to the end-result. Using real footage, it incites a greater reflection on actions in true-life scenarios. “Though enhancing “social good” is part of the agenda, Peacemaker enables players to understand complex geopolitical dynamics through a personal decision-making process.” Used in various communities, Burak offers a touching example of Palestinian and Israeli students playing together, catalysing dialogue and perhaps a less one-sided vision of their conflict. Another illustrative example based on a TV documentary focuses on Mexican migration to the US: again it is possible to play different roles, from “wetbacks” to US immigration officials. The pedagogical reach of such digital media is game-changing indeed by anyone’s standards.