Idol Chatter

In an article for The New York Times, Clive Thompson reports that video games–at least some of them–are turning their attention away from mangling bodies for pure sadistic pleasure and oggling impossibly endowed women for that other kind of pleasure. Called “serious games,” these newfangled video games allow players to try their hands at solving the Middle East peace crisis–as either the Palestinian president or the Israeli prime minister–or fight the Janjaweed, in a game called “Darfur is Dying.”

An Israeli-born developer for “Peacemaker” (which is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), Asi Burak, told Thompson that “people get very engaged [in the game]. They really try very hard to get a solution. Even after one hour or two hours, they’d come to me and say, you know, I know more about the conflict than when I’ve read newspapers for 10 years.”

The United Nations gives away their own video game for free online called “Food Force,” the subject of which is obvious from the title, and MTV is behind the popular “Darfur is Dying,” also given away for free. Of the latter, Thompson reports that, “In the first month alone, 700,000 people played it. Of those, tens of thousands entered an ‘action’ area of the game–political action, that is–where they can send email messages to politicians and demand action on Darfur.”

As a former video game addict myself (I had to give it up years ago so I could enjoy a normal life), I know how engaging games can be–drawing a player in for hours to solve a single task just to get to the next level. It’s fascinating to imagine what hundreds of thousands, even millions, of young gamers might come up with if, all at once, they were engaged for hours on end, day after day, in solving the Middle East peace crisis. Maybe we’d actually get somewhere.

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