I spent the afternoon at the Red Cross in downtown Washington, D.C. for the Targeting the Laws of War with Video Games: Lunch, Learn, Play presentation. There were about 40 – 50 people there, a solid turnout for a Tuesday afternoon.
Before the presentation started, I had the opportunity to watch some gameplay from The Line: Spec Ops, a gamed designed to evoke empathy, the confusion of war, and the consequences of difficult choices. It was interesting to watch a war game that did not glorify war. I also played Valiant Hearts, a Ubisoft side-scroller about a WWII nurse, based of actual historical letters. Lastly, I tried to play Prisoners of War, a Red Cross-developed game about the Geneva Convention, but it was a bit buggy and I couldn’t get too far. Which wasn’t a bad thing, considering how poorly I apparently know the Geneva Convention.
The first set of presentations featured Wes Rist, Eric Sigmund, and Scott Chambers and focused on the institutional aspect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and its relationship to the Red Cross. The presenters made a point to bring up the 2011 publication about game content which was interpreted by the gaming community as censorship and, even worse, prosecuting gamers for war crimes. The panelists agreed that although the conversation about game content is important, it was not handled in the best way, and that the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies have been doing damage control and working to move forward.
The second set of panelists included moderator Brad Gutierrez (who said he wasn’t a gamer but I got to admit he played digital solitaire!), and speakers Linday Grace from American University’s GameLab, Daniel Greenberg, president of Media Rez and all around video game industry bad-ass, and Garrison LeMasters, a researcher from Georgetown University’s Program in Communication, Culture, and Technology.
I live-tweeted the event, and here are some of my favorite comments:
During Q&A, one of the audience members asked about how violent shooters may be training people to become violent shooters. After all, we had just been talking about how video games can teach for the last 40 minutes. The gamer in me rolled her eyes and the psychologist in me had flashbacks to the piles and piles of dissertation research on the topic.
And then, Lindsay Grace delivered the best line of the conference: “Playing Madden doesn’t make me a good football player.” Bravo, Mr. Grace, and thank you.
A second highlight of the panel was David Greenberg driving home the point, poignantly and repeatedly, that progressive, reflective, or discussion-inducing content can certainly be integrated into a game, the game must first and foremost be interesting and engaging.
Overall a wonderful event. You can view the recorded stream of the entire seminar here. You’ll want to start at the 11 minute mark.