Revolutions can happen anywhere, as we saw in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia earlier this year. But seemingly spontaneous uprisings against governments are usually anything but random: they are the result of relentless organizing, persistence, and strategy.
Now a video game called PeoplePower has been updated to instill a new generation of revolutionaries with the tactics and strategic skills to pull off nonviolent movements. Originally called “A Force More Powerful,” which we reported on in 2006, the new game was developed specifically to reach an audience in repressed and often poor regions, particularly in the Middle East. The most innovative feature allows users to build their own virtual worlds to match their governments and countries, essentially creating an open-source platform for learning about regime change.
PeoplePower casts you “as a leader of a popular movement…fight[ing] 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.” You are forced to marshal the population to secure human rights and win freedom from dictators, occupiers, and corrupt regimes. PeoplePower is radically simplified compared to the earlier game, offering a downloadable version for the web (versus the original purchasable CD), a smaller size (55MB instead of 760MB), and code that runs better on the underpowered computers found in many developing countries. Arabic, Farsi, Russian, and Spanish versions will also be released alongside the English one later this year, according to The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and York Zimmerman Inc., which created the games.
For those living in Africa, Latin America, and Arab countries, the new game will also feel a lot more more like home. “Cultural issues in the game itself are negligible,” wrote Steve York, one of the game’s developers, in an email. “However, we are adapting the scenarios especially for the Middle East.” The names and physical appearances of characters have been changed, along with the kinds of civil society institutions that appear, to fit with both the culture and the times.
Ultimately, PeoplePower’s goal is to reach far beyond those just playing the game. During a recent trip to Egypt, York found those with computers reached out to those without and played the game together, even without a native language version. “The number was small, but I was encouraged,” wrote York. Perhaps the next Arab Spring will start from gaming activists.