Video Game Teaches Non-Violent Solutions

A new video game aims to teach kids about non-violent solutions to conflict. Eve Troeh reports that the game's creator has plenty of experience — he was a leader of Serbian student protests that helped to bring down dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

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Video games thrive on combat, something a lot of parents bemoan. Now there's a new game that may make parents smile. It substitutes peace signs for AK-47s. Eve Troeh reports.

EVE TROEH reporting:

Ivan Marovic sits in his small apartment in Belgrade, Serbia, clicking away at his laptop. He's playing a game, A Force More Powerful. In it, he leads a virtual non-violent opposition. Their goal is to oust a corrupt official, and to help do it they stage a three-day rally.

Mr. IVAN MAROVIC: Oops, somebody (unintelligible)

TROEH: But it ends badly.

Mr. MAROVIC: There are cops and people are running away, so we'll read in the papers what happened now. "Security forces got violent and the oppression was violently dispersed. Seven casualties."

TROEH: Marovic has lived scenes like this in real life. He was a leader in the Serbian student group Otpor, which helped bring down dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 without firing a single shot. Otpor used all non-violent action.

Two years ago, a Washington D.C. production company and the International Center for Non-Violent Conflict asked Marovic to translate his experience into a game for peace scholars and activists. He jumped at the chance.

Mr. MAROVIC: My experience from Otpor helped me in the design of these non-violent tactics, things like strikes, boycotts, protests. But also, since I lived under Milosevic in Serbia and witnessed four wars, I witnessed economic sanctions, hyper-inflation, that helped me a lot to design various regime tactics, assassinations, kidnapping, arrests, torture.

TROEH: He also hoped that a computer game could eliminate some of the problems he had teaching non-violent methods in person in places like Ukraine, Lebanon and Belarus.

Mr. MAROVIC: I said to myself, Oh cool, you cannot intimidate a compact disc, or you cannot expel it from a country. This will be a nice training tool.

TROEH: A Force More Powerful is based on a film from the same name from 1999. Steve York directed that film, and his production company helped fund the game. He says the difference between the film and the game is that in the game players control the story.

(Soundbite of video game "A Force More Powerful")

Mr. STEVE YORK (Director, A Force More Powerful): It's their skills, their ingenuity, it's their ability to make the right decisions that determines how that conflict is going to turn out, who's going to win, on what terms. TROEH: Players choose from ten different situations for conflict, from ousting a brutal regime to fighting for civil right in a democracy. A major limit of the game though is that it can't be used by many people in real-life conflicts. Users have to have a computer, and the game requires a lot of reading. For activists trying to organize poor or uneducated people, those are major obstacles. Zoteil Berbera(ph) is a social justice activist in New Orleans.

Ms. ZOTEIL BERBERA (Social Justice Activist): It seems like it would be hard for people with illiteracy; it's a challenge for me because I don't use computers that well, and, you know, I work on a computer every day. So, I think that for folks who are really new to computers, and who weren't strong readers, that it might be challenging.

TROEH: Marovic says, for those who do have the skills and equipment to play, whether gamers, academics or activists, the game presents non-violence as a realistic alternative to brute force.

Mr. MAROVIC: When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, you will end up nailing things around. But, you know, this is like adding another tool in the toolbox.

TROEH: More than 700 copies of A Force More Powerful have been sold in the month since its release. Marovic says players in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America are already creating scenarios based their own real governments with the games Build Your Own function. And, he says, they'll eventually be able to share them online.

For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh.

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