As some of you know, Rational Games, Inc. is not only a negotiation training and consulting company, but a social business as well. Every year, we make small grants to support innovative projects that make creative use of games and play to resolve conflict. I want to tell the story of one of those on this month’s blog.
One of our longstanding strategic partners, Search for Common Ground, approached us several years ago with the idea of creating a video game to support peacebuilding efforts: for teenagers in Lebanon! Since Hezbollah is reportedly using video gaming to promote their agenda amongst children and youth, why not turn the tables and employ this powerful medium to teach kids young people the value of peace? And so, in cooperation with several other much larger funders, CEDARIA was born.
Unfortunately, most people still associate video games with violence. Battles, guns, wars, and mayhem, with the hero/player charged with killing aliens, creatures, monsters and other evil opponents. More than half a billion people worldwide play video games at least an hour a day, so this sort of thing seems to speak to a deep human need. In Lebanon, says SFCG, 96% of youth play video games, most of them violent.
But Search for Common Ground Lebanon is playing a game of its own. Their mission is to achieve social change through transforming conflicts – away from violent and adversarial approaches, towards collaborative problem solving. They believe that while conflict is inevitable – violence is not! Their idea is to reframe some local and not-so-local problems related to resources, corruption, Syrian refugees and the different sects – among others – as stories in a video game and let players learn to solve them peaceably.
On the surface, CEDARIA might seem like a fairly straightforward game with a simple mission – assemble the missing pieces of a mysterious driving force behind a fictional island, or run the risk of civil war and total economic decay. But the simple story demands difficult choices and those are driven by moral dilemmas as well as strategy. And peace is a winning outcome.
CEDARIA also requires good teamwork, as the game is played interactively with virtual partners, some of which players have only met online. In fact, SFCG is taking a whole new spin on things and planning to host actual CEDARIA gaming sessions (tournaments) between youth from different backgrounds and regions in Lebanon. This is especially important, because Lebanese people of different backgrounds tend to avoid intermingling, leading to a lack of understanding of the other and rampant stereotypes. Through a fun gaming session, they hope to provide a stage for overcoming such misconceptions.
There have been plenty of lessons along the way: the challenges of a development team scattered in several countries, the difficulty of translating materials into Arabic, decisions about the right mix between the digital and the analog (boxed) version, a not-yet-successful crowdfunding effort. But RGI is committed to getting this game to market as soon as possible. It is a compelling idea whose time has come.
View a trailer of the game at: