Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Propaganda In Video Games: The Development Side

Before this last week, if anyone had mentioned propaganda in a video game, I would immediately think of Eve Online and some of the classic videos posted on YouTube by Goonswarm during their years long struggle with Band of Brothers.  But then I found a paper published on Gamasutra titled "Towards An Interactive Goebbels: Can Propaganda Videogames Be Made More Effective And Is Resistance Futile?"  Written by Brunel University Digital Games: Theory and Design masters student David McClur, the paper looks into propaganda, videogames and what the future could hold for the creation of propaganda videogames.

Running 8 pages, I found a couple of conclusions worth posting.  The first was a list of ways to make a propaganda video game more effective.
  • Propaganda games should appeal to their desired audience in terms they can understand, believe and agree with. Widely known facts should not be ignored and arbitrary conditions should not be forced upon players, for fear that they will reject the work outright.
  • Propaganda games should be made more enjoyable, and perhaps even addictive, so that they receive prolonged and repeated viewings.
  • The potential of players emotional responses should not be ignored.
  • Propaganda should be included subtly and made to appear to be a natural part of a game.
  • Game mechanics, particularly rewards, penalties and ludic goals, should be used to drive players towards specific, desired behaviours.
  • The way in which game mechanics are contextualised should be used to both express a position openly and to enhance any message they are designed to convey.
  • Games should be designed to discourage oppositional readings.
  • Wherever possible, propaganda messages should be encoded as an enthymeme in the gameplay itself, rather than as an additional message tacked on in the form of narrative.
  • All possible elements of the game should be used to increase the likelihood of provoking the desired response in players.
The second was why the future for propaganda video games is bright.
  • Videogames are now a mass media, allowing communication with millions
  • Propaganda videogames have had some success already, with the release of America's Army. There is no requirement to be the first to risk capital investment in a test project.
  • Propaganda is particularly difficult to detect in videogames.
  • Videogames have a largely untapped potential to be extremely effective pieces of propaganda that players engage with for long periods and can even become addicted to. They require a limited investment of time and capital for a potentially infinite return of audience attention.
  • Propaganda videogames are just as difficult to resist as other propaganda mediums.
  • Videogames will potentially be legitimised as a factual medium in future, increasing public trust in them.
Now, people who know me know I love a good conspiracy theory, and not just post's like Tipa's "A Parent's Guide to MMO Gaming", which I adored.  So let me put on my tin-foil hat and carry the theory of propaganda video games to the next level.

Quite frankly, does anyone take this seriously?  Let's listen to the President of the United States, Barrack Obama.

"Meanwhile, you're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations; information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment. All of this is not only putting new pressures on you; it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy."
Now, I'm not going to discuss the fact that the Obama administration has brought the White House to YouTube or anything outside of video games.  I'm also not going to get all defensive about video games like a certain Common Sense Gamer from north of the border did when this speech was delivered.  I'm just going to stick to the subject of propaganda.

So, do politicians and members of government believe that video games can influence people's real-life behavior?  As Mr. McClur points out in his paper, we already have a successful example in America's Army, but that is the military, not the civilians in control.  I wrote back in May, the Bowles-Simpson Debt Reduction Commission was looking at creating a game to allow players to come up with their own solutions to solving the U.S. deficit problem.  I guess I was thinking of video games as propaganda even back then because I concluded that post with the following...
"The tax portion of the problem is just one (or many depending how you look at it) of the design decisions that needs to be made in the production of the game. Yes, a good economic simulation would benefit the debate greatly. But who determines if the game is a good simulation or just a propaganda recruiting tool for one side or the other?"
But was the commission looking at the game as a propaganda tool?  I'm not sure.

I'll leave you with this video from a California news station about how the Obama campaign in 2008 advertised in video games.

Do you think that President Obama takes the possiblity of video games carrying messages seriously?  I do, but then again, I'm wearing a tin-foil hat.

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