Play Nice

A peaceful video game’s virtuous reality

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


IMAGINE that you are a resident of the subtropical nation Infeliz, suffering under the brutal reign of a dictator named Michael Kosanic. You decide to launch a nonviolent resistance movement to force him out. You’re seeking a brilliant, charismatic leader who can pull it off. My advice: Don’t pick me. That is, unless you want your movement to end up scattered, bankrupt, and imprisoned, while Kosanic crushes the nation in his ever-tightening grip. In that case, I’m your man.

That is my lesson from a week spent playing A Force More Powerful—The Game of Nonviolent Strategy, a SimCity-like computer game that pitted me—as the strategic brains behind a grassroots democracy movement—against various evil and repressive governments. AFMP, the brainchild of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, is advertised as a training tool for “people who want to use nonviolent action in their own struggles for rights and freedom.” Players choose from 10 possible scenarios, urged on by on-screen quotes from Margaret Mead and M.L.K. Jr. It shines with the luster of noble intentions. Noble intentions, however, do not an exciting video game make.

As the leader of a group challenging the ruthless Kosanic, I’m given a team of pixelated activists to inspire. And while I’m happy to leave tactics like “mass execution” and “ethnic cleansing” to the dictator, I’m guiltily disappointed to find that “destroy property” and “intimidation” are off-limits to me. Fundraising and handing out literature may be crucial in the real world of politics, but here they just seem like chores.

But in my hands, the pro-democracy movement is closer to a British football riot than an Orange Revolution. My attempts at marches, vigils, and building occupations collapse into spasms of violence. On the upside, the game’s only half-interesting graphics appear whenever my animated supporters go berserk. After several virtual months have elapsed, all my chief organizers have been arrested and my members are “despondent.” I can’t blame them. It’s the perfect time for a Hail Mary play, like assassinating the dictator. But alas, my only secret weapon is…taking a poll. My candidate comes in at 0 percent.

After starting over a few times, I begin to improve my results, if not necessarily my own enjoyment. Playing AFMP, at least, feels more socially conscious than blowing away nameless mercenaries in Halo 2. If nothing else, A Force More Powerful will teach aspiring activists that even seemingly organic movements are built on a multitude of thankless and pedestrian tasks. But who said nonviolent change was supposed to be fun?

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate