Artifact: Virtual People Power


Credit: BreakAway Games
Credit: BreakAway Games
Credit: BreakAway Games

If you want to simulate a military conflict, Breakaway Games is the shop for you: Its products include such titles as Virtual Convoy Trainer, Entropy-Based Warfare, and netSTRIKE. Its most recent release, A Force More Powerful, is rather different. The video game offers 10 oppressive scenarios, from foreign occupation to repression of minorities. The object: to organize a nonviolent revolution.

One of the project's sponsors is the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which disseminates information on peaceful resistance. (The game will be offered at a discount to activists abroad.) It may seem odd that the center would work with a company that also makes military games, but that isn't unprecedented. Gene Sharp, one of the leading theorists of nonviolent struggle, has said that soldiers sometimes appreciate his ideas better than the peace movement does. One of his lectures provoked a pacifist in the audience to complain, "All you are doing is taking the violence out of war!"

From netSTRIKE to The Sims, games carry embedded assumptions about the way the world works. What does A Force More Powerful try to teach? "The most basic lesson is that you need to do strategic planning," says producer Bob McNamera. "You're much more likely to succeed if you've analyzed the situation."

The same is true of violent conflicts, but they tend to leave a lot more corpses.