By Lucy Draper
Endgame: Syria is a new online strategy game based on the present war in Syria. The company who produced it, Auroch Digital, has been making news-based games for a few months as part of their 'Game The News' project. Tagged with the motto 'Our World, All Playable' the company says "As news breaks, we create our own twist on events in a playable form." So what other global situations have the company developed with their own special 'twist'? Well how about becoming an online cotton-picker to learn about the hardships of child labour in Uzbekistan, or illustrating the plight of South African rhinos by shooting poachers dead?
Tomas Rawlings, Auroch Digital's Creative Director, and man behind these games has justified them by saying they communicate what is happening in the world around us: "For those who don't want to read a newspaper but still care about the world, this is a way for them to find out about things". I asked him how a game, created in just two weeks, could ever convey the complexity and the horror of the Syrian war to a teenager, sat at home in a suburban cul-de-sac. Rawlings admitted it couldn't, "What our game does is represent the possible strands of the situation; that it can end in victory for one side or a peace deal and that even with this ending, peace may become elusive because of the events in the war." So it teaches people that wars often end with one side winning and sometimes peace is hard to come-by: hardly surprising stuff.
Tomas' reasoning is that the game brings the Syrian crisis to the attention of those who might otherwise know little about it (ignoring the fact that the game is aimed at those aged thirteen and above, who should probably have an idea about the most bloody civil war currently going on in the world). And yet what he is presenting is a completely watered down version of what's going on. The game is set up almost like Top Trumps, as you post your actions to combat the regime's moves. The most information you are given about the atrocities being carried out is the description of the Shabiha Militia: "a militia of armed men in civilian clothing who have been accused of a number of massacres of civilians such as the May 25th in Houla." No mention of rape being used as weapon, or extensive torture, or the murder of women and children.
Of course the younger generation need to be educated on global events and Tomas is right that he has not created "some sort of crass shooting game". But his insistence that Endgame: Syria can hold its own against real pieces of journalism is simply not true. Rawlings says that "You don't understand a civil war from one report on CNN or the BBC anymore than you understand it from playing one news-game," and when I asked him how he feels about profiting from the bloody conflict his response was the same, "The same way The Guardian or CNN feel."
Tomas' defence boils down to his claim that the game is as good as a news report, but Endgame: Syria is so reductive it undermines any positive intentions. It's an online card game where the consequences of decisions are illustrated on a moving graph measuring 'support' for the rebels or the regime. Civilian casualties are hidden away in the right-hand corner and seem almost like an after-thought, a ticking counter of death so removed from the reality of the war you almost ignore it
Reviews on the Endgame: Syria website are mixed, ranging from "disgusting one sided terrorist sympathetic game, and highly unethical..." to "Game is ill, very realistic choice making and choice affect, very simple and straight forward, makes u [sic] think, and is really dope, good game". However, even if it does make its players think, the game undermines itself with its simplicity. You can't teach the horrors of the Syrian war through an online card game.