by Bob Reinhard
When I say a game has been banned from Apple’s iOS store, what kinds of things come to mind? Perhaps it’s that Baby-Shaking simulator? Or maybe it’s a game that treads on the ground of school shootings, a subject that often leads to anti-game arguments? Would you believe me if I told you a game that looks to educate people on a real-world crisis in the Middle East from a realistic and researched perspective is also among the causalities of censorship from iOS?
This was what happened to the game I played today: Endgame Syria. It was rejected from Apple’s iOS for daring to leap into uncomfortable and very real territory.
The game is a simple card-based strategy game where you take on the role of the leader of the rebel faction in a civil war in Syria. A conflict that is based upon real events that are currently happening as I write this. Instead of taking the approach a lot of games take towards dealing with these kinds of conflicts, i.e. playing as American forces gunning people down, you instead take an approach that makes you consider and think about your actions.
Right from the start, I was skeptical about what this game was going to present me. But on it’s starting screen, it immediately addressed my concerns with a little side tab with information about what this game was about. Just by clicking the more information button, you are provided with links to their research and to information sites about the current conflict in Syria. This immediately told me that the developers, Auroch Digital Ltd., didn’t take this subject lightly, and wasn’t just exploiting it for content.
With a little more faith in how this game would use real research to give me a more balanced and meaningful experience, I dove into the game. It’s not the most complex game, but it has a certain nuance I found interesting.
The game plays out in two phases each round, a diplomatic stage and a military stage. Each has a purpose. First, your diplomatic stage is to help build up support for the rebel faction and attempt to undo any support for the regime you’re resisting. And then the military rounds require you to pick which forms of attack you want.
The diplomatic rounds are more about choosing your allies, what nations you wish to gain support from. Attempting things like cease fires or receiving additional weapon support. While the military stages put you in conflicts with very real consequences. Each type of attack you can choose has a price. You can use more aggressive attacks, but damage to the country and civilian causalities may cause you to lose some of the support you’ve gained. Depending on your strategy, this can cause the support structure to shift in your favor, or make you out to be the enemy.
In my initial playthrough, I found myself being rather cautious. Trying not to damage my support system too much while defending myself against attack. To my surprise, by the end of the game, I found myself in peace negotiations.
But not every conflict plays out so cautiously. So on my second playthrough, I tried a much more aggressive approach. I kept my support as high as I could in the diplomatic stages so I could go all-out in the military stages, striking down the regime with heavier force, regardless of the collateral damage. And by the end, my support was strong enough for me to completely overthrow the regime.
Finally, I played one more time, focusing on low support and heavy forces, this allowed the regime to easily crush my resistance due to my reckless, over-zealous actions and disregard for what results it had.
These three completely different approaches gave me a real sense of what it’s like to deal with conflict. Mixed in that every diplomatic decision or military attack source came with an information blurb to tell me about what these units actually were, I got a real sense of my decisions being tough ones to make. Also, facts pop up from time to time to tell you of the impact this war was having on the country. Things such as destruction of important landmarks or attention being drawn away by other conflicts in the world.
At the end of the game, regardless of the outcome, you’re met with results of what would happen after that series of events takes place. Things such as civil splits in the countries landscape or rebel groups forming from the ashes of the war show you that no matter what the outcome, these decisions were only seeds in a greater and more long-term struggle.
So, given that the game is based on a lot of research and presents an equal-sided look at the approaches and results of such a conflict, why are we so afraid of presenting something like this as an interactive medium? The question of this being a “game” is one that weighs heavily on a lot of people’s minds. And having experienced the tension and fear of what impact these decisions might have on the results of my mission, I can speak to this working as a game. Interactivity makes us think about our actions, and see what kinds of decisions real people have to face every day. It gives a more personal perspective to these conflicts and shows the risks involved in every tough decision that is made.
But are we ready for that? Are we, as gamers, ready for some games to teach us through tough experiences? Are we willing to open ourselves to see some games as more than just games, but as teaching tools? As ways to understand things we may not fully comprehend without experiencing them first hand.
I believe this game is an important look at how impactful it can be to place yourself in a real world situation without the consequences. To allow us to see these things play out without risk in real life. Presenting this information as a game allows us to see every side of things before they play out in real life. It allows us to get a better understanding of what’s happening in real world situations we may not have full access to.
I’m glad I was able to experience this game, and I’ve taken from it a belief that games can take real world conflicts and give us a more personal way to experience, learn, and understand from them. Gaming can be more than simple fun, it can be a teaching tool that connects us as human beings.
And the world could use more connecting, don’t you think?
Note: Endgame Syria has now been launched on Apple iOS, with all references to Syria being removed and replaced with Eurasia. Just something to keep in mind.
Endgame Syria can be picked up at Desura. Played on your Android phone. Played online at Kongregate. Or downloaded quickly to Windows and Apple computers at GameJolt. For more information on games tackling real-world news stories and events, check out Game The News for many different issues presented through video games.