Can Digital Games Support Peace and Conflict Resolution?

As part of my learning experience in my Games and Learning graduate course at CU Denver, I’ll critique literature tied to the theme of game-based learning. These critiques will summarize features like research design, learning theory, methods, findings, and implications for the study and application of games and learning.

Below is my latest critique

on the paper, How Digital Games can Support Peace Education and Conflict Resolution, which studies empathy through what I’m calling, game-based conflict. I chose this perspective to consider how games might help people better understand and feel comfortable with controversial topics.

Overview:

Digital games about conflict (video game violence) often takes blame for poor behavior in the real world. Darvasi (2016), argued that game-based conflict can actually foster empathy and promote peace and conflict resolution. His research examined several serious games and their ability to change attitudes and improve understanding and knowledge of other cultures. The games in his study included:

  • PeaceMaker: A game about leadership and the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Players assume the role of politicians and work to peacefully solve conflict.
  • Hush: A game that explores the 1994 Rwandan genocide through a hostage’s point of view.
  • This War of Mine: A game about civilian struggles during the Bosnian War (1992-1996).
  • 1979 Revolution: Black Friday: A day-in-the-life of a photojournalist set during the Iranian War.
  • Matari 69200: A game about Peruvian guerrilla warfare. Players take on the identify of a soldier faced with killing prisoners, civilians, and other military personnel.

As you can see, the games outlined in this paper vary in terms of player identity, geographic location, types of conflict, and end goals. The one consistent element of each allow players to experience perspectives from different personas involved in conflict. Players are fully immersed in the environment and assuming the role of the character. They’re making decisions based assumptions and learning different outcomes based on those decisions.

As someone who has previously

aired on the side that these types of video games promote violence, it’s interesting to consider Darvasi’s perspective-taking and empathy viewpoint. It makes me wonder… Are the people playing these games actually more empathetic and understanding of other cultures? Are there other factors that contribute to empathy and deep learning in game-based conflict? Perhaps. However, Darvasi (2016), believes that these digital virtual environments:

“encourage perspective-taking, produce empathy, help negotiate ethical and moral dilemmas, simulate intercultural understanding, facilitate the acquisition of historic and cultural knowledge, and reflection on one’s own passive complicity when faced with instances of suffering and injustice.”

So, if that’s the case, how would one actually measure the positive affect of digital game-based conflict and resolution? How many people would need to be studied? How long does it take for players to develop empathy through this type of play? Do the players identity and view point matter? For instance, do players in Hush have greater empathy because the take on the identity of a victim vs a politician or soldier? What about the player’s geographic location? Furthermore, how might one measure understanding and/or level of comfort with real-world controversial topics after engaging in these games?

Games keep getting more complicated!

For those of you in education,

I’ll leave you with some final questions: How might digital game-based conflict improve or distract students in school? Would you use one of the games mentioned above in your classroom? Why / Why not?

 


 

 

 

 

Darvasi , P. (2016). Working Paper Series—Empathy, Perspective and Complicity: How Digital Games can support Peace Education and Conflict Resolution. Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development / UNESCO. Retrieved from: http://mgiep.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/WORKING-PAPER-PAUL-DARVASI-.pdf

  One Reply to “Can Digital Games Support Peace and Conflict Resolution?”

  1. February 23, 2017 at 10:29 am

    In general, most games put the player in the role of the hero, or a character with ultimate control over how the game plays out. Putting the player in control of a hostage, for example, would strip them of that ultimate power and could possibly elicit an empathetic response, or it could frustrate the participant to the point of dismissing the media as not worth their time. Putting yourself in others’ shoes can be an effective exercise, but the question is: how do we make those ‘shoes’ engaging enough to be an effective and engaging learning tool?

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