Why Technical English

Tactical Media and games | December 1, 2010


Composed by Galina Vitkova

  

Introductory notes

Tactical media is a form of media activism that uses media and communication technologies for social movement and privileges temporary, hit-and-run interventions in the media sphere. Attempts to spread information not available by mainstream news are also called media activism. The term was first introduced in the mid-1990s in Europe and the United States by media theorists and practitioners. Since then, it has been used to describe the practices of a vast array of art and activist groups. Tactical media also shares something with the hacker subculture, and in particular with software and hardware hacks which modify, extend or unlock closed information systems and technologies.

Tactical Media in Video Games

Video games have opened a fully new approach for tactical media artists. This form of media allows a wide range of audiences to be informed of a specific issue or idea. Some examples of games that touch on Tactical Media are Darfur is Dying and September 12. One example of a game design studio that works in tactical media is TAKE ACTION games (TAG). The video game website www.newsgaming.com greatly embodies the idea of tactical media in video games. Newsgaming coins this name as a new genre that brings awareness of current news related issues based on true world events apposed to fantasy worlds that other video games are based upon. It contributes to emerging culture that is largely aimed at raising awareness about important matters in a new and brilliant approach.

Other examples of tactical media within video games include The McDonald’s Game. The author of this game takes information from the executive officers of McDonalds and giving it to the public by informing people about how McDonalds does its business and what means it uses to accomplish it.

Chris Crawford’s Balance of the Planet, made in 1990, is another example of tactical media, in which the game describes environmental issues.

Darfur is Dying description   

Camp of Darfuris internally displaced by the o...

Image via Wikipedia

Origination

It is a browser game about the crisis in Darfur, western Sudan. The game won the Darfur Digital Activist Contest sponsored by the company mtvU ((Music Television for Universities campus)). Released in April 2006, more than 800,000 people had played it by September. It is classified as a serious game, specifically a newsgame.
The game design was led by Susana Ruiz (then a graduate student at the Interactive Media Program at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California) as a part of TAKE ACTION games. In October 2005 she was attending the Games for Change conference in New York City, where mtvU announced that they, in partnership with other organizations, were launching the Darfur Digital Activist Contest for a game. The game should also be an advocacy tool about the situation in the Darfur conflict. Since mtvU offered funding and other resources, Ruiz decided to participate in this project.
Ruiz formed a design team and spent two months creating a game design document and prototype. The team spent much of the design phase talking to humanitarian aid workers with experience in Darfur and brainstorming how to make a game that was both interesting to play and was an advocacy tool. The Ruiz team’s beta version was put up for review by the public, along with the other finalists, and was chosen as the winner. The team then received funding to complete the game. The game was officially released at a Save Darfur Coalition rally on 30 March 2006.
Map of Darfur, Sudan (
Image via Wikipedia

 

Gameplay

The game begins with the player choosing a member of a Darfuri family that has been displaced by the conflict. The first of the two modes of the game begins with the player controlling the family member, who travelled from the camp to a well and back, while dodging patrols of the janjaweed militia. If captured, the player is informed what has happened to his/her selected character and asked to select another member of the family and try again. If the water is successfully carried back to the camp, the game switches into its second mode – a top down management view of the camp, where the character must use the water for crops and to build huts. When the water runs out the player must return to the water fetching level to progress. The goal is to keep the camp running for seven days.

 

Original caption states,

Image via Wikipedia

 Reception of the game

The game has been reported by mainstream media sources such as The Washington Post, Time Magazine, BBC News and National Public Radio. In an early September 2006 interview, Ruiz stated that it was difficult to determine success for a game with a social goal, but affirmed that more than 800,000 people had played it 1.7 million times since its release.  Moreover, tens of thousands of them had forwarded the game to friends or sent a letter to an elected representative. As of April 2007, the game has been played more than 2.4 million times by over 1.2 million people worldwide.

 The game has been the focus of debate on its nature and impact. Some academics, interviewed by the BBC on the game, stated that anything that might spark debate over Darfur and issues surrounding is a clear gain for the advocates. The others thought that the game oversimplified a complex situation and thus failed to address the actual issues of the conflict.  The game was also criticized for the sponsorship of mtvU, raising the possibility that the game might seem like a marketing tool for the corporation. The official site does not use the word “game”, but refers to Darfur is Dying as a “narrative based simulation.”

 

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