Saturday, December 6, 2008

Computer game that teaches nonviolent strategy


The Game of Nonviolent Strategy

Can a computer game help people learn how to defeat dictators, military occupiers, and corrupt rulers–not with laser rays and AK47s–but with a non-military strategy and nonviolent weapons?

The Game of Nonviolent Strategy is an interactive teaching tool in the field of nonviolent conflict. Developed by The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), media firm York Zimmerman Inc. and game designers at BreakAway Ltd., the game is built on nonviolent strategies and tactics used successfully in conflicts around the world.

Featuring ten scenarios inspired by history, A Force More Powerful simulates nonviolent struggles to win freedom and secure human rights against dictators, occupiers, colonizers, and corrupt regimes, as well as campaigns for political and human rights for minorities and women. The game models real-world experience, allowing players to devise strategies, apply tactics and see the results.

Nonviolent conflict is a way for ordinary people to fight for their rights using disruptive actions such as strikes, boycotts and mass protests. As people are mobilized to take action and withdraw their cooperation from the oppressor, the balance of power is shifted democratically to the people. In the last 33 years, nonviolent civic resistance has played a critical role in 50 of 67 transitions from authoritarianism.

AFMP is designed for people who want to use nonviolent action in their own struggles for rights and freedom. The game will also serve as a valuable simulation model for academic studies of nonviolent resistance, as well as an educational tool for civil society groups and anyone who wants to learn more about the power and strategic use of nonviolent action.

AFMP is a single-player, turn-based game in which the player takes on the role of chief strategist in a nonviolent movement against the opponent in one of ten pre-packaged scenarios. As the player takes charge of the movement’s materials and human resources, recruits new members and builds alliances, the player also learns the value of strategic planning, and the careful formulation of goals and tactics. The adversary is controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence.

Complex models of social interaction make up the game engine, incorporating political and economic factors, ethnicity, religion, media and communications, and resource availability, among others. A special game feature allows users to create custom scenarios, using the specific details of their own situations.

Related material:

filmsA Force More Powerful and Bringing Down a Dictator–films
bookA Force More Powerful
resources — on nonviolent strategies and methods

Serious games

Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung writes about "serious games" on

'As the Economist Magazine noted in 2004, the video game industry has surpassed and continues to generate more revenue than Hollywood and the film industry. This shift in cultural lifestyle and entertainment has created an arena and demand for video games not played merely for leisure. Educational, informational, and instructional video games, also called Serious Games, have emerged as tools for the public to understand and learn about important social, political and environmental issues.

Gas Zappers is a series of online games to approach climate change from a video game format available to the general public. Similar games have been very successful in addressing controversial and sensitive subjects such as McDonald’s Video Game, A Force More Powerful, mtvU’s Darfur Is Dying and the UN World Food Program’s Food Force. These Serious Games illustrate the importance of a “new” language which video games are able to communicate on a international level.'

Kenneth has an informative blog on these computer games:

Role-play / Conflict resolution / Grounding the virtual in the local

Images: From

Warren Sack, after his talk at SFAI on 11.19.08, mentioned that in the excitement over the ability to overcome some limitations of space and time on the internet, people tend to overlook the community-building of the local: grounding a virtual space in the local offers many opportunities for people to connect, over stakes in the neighborhood, common interests, transactions. Craig's List is a good example.

The local can apply not only to space, such as the neighborhood or city, but also time, such as an event or workshop.

Here's an idea for an application that is grounded by participation in a workshop.

Problem: Mideast teen peace workshops produce few results

This article from SFGate describes how Mideast teen peace workshops produce fews and gives several possible reasons for its ineffectiveness: Each year Palestinian and Israeli NGOs bring hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli teenagers together to forge personal ties that they hope will lay the groundwork for future peace. Between 1993 and 2000, Western governments and foundations spent $20 - $25 million on dialogue groups. But the programs have failed to produce a single prominent peace activist on either side. And now the first wide-scale survey of Palestinians involved in these peace programs found that over 90 percent said that they were no longer in contact with any Israelis that they had met through the program, nor was there any follow-up to camp activity that they had participated in. (

Use SL and the social media classroom to follow up and maintain contact

The idea is to set up a space in SL for participants who met during the workshop, to continue to engage with each other afterwards. During the school year and during breaks, organize simple projects that involve learning and use the tools of the social media classroom to keep the Palestinian and Israeli teenagers in touch and engaged. Over a longer break, such as summer, organize SL camps situated locally to bring participants back together for more sustained interactions. Both SL and the social media classroom can be used to work around the issues of distance and cost in this particular case — the bigger issue underlying these interventions is political borders.

Related link: Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (recommended by Natasha Loewy)

SL application: role-play and dramatize conflict and peer mediation

Exploring avatar roles in SL is a good fit for teenagers. Teeagers are "actively engaging in identity production as they turn from their parents to their peers as their primary influencers and group dynamics take hold" (Danah Boyd, "Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace," Teens, especially minorities, are interested in seeing themselves represented on screen.

An idea for a final project for summer camp: Have the teenagers come up with skits that dramatize the conflict (act 1) and peer mediation (act 2) that they would perform in SL, to be videotaped and shown in a museum setting. Peer mediation is described in the next section. The Palestinian teenagers would role-play a panel of Israeli teenagers in an Israeli neighborhood, and vice versa. Each Palestinian teenager would pair up with several Israeli teenagers to help research and prepare for the role, and vice versa.

There are many other possibilities for SL projects and activities. The key is to engage the teenagers' imagination and interest. Just as art has the ability to infiltrate places not normally open to more explicitly didactic forms by posing as entertainment, activities on SL can maintain and build on the relationships started in the initial workshop, by offering benefits such as conflict resolution and interpersonal skills, and computer skills that could lead to more future jobs. Computer graphics, having both aesthetic and logical dimensions, can appeal to all sexes. Teenagers also take to communicating and socializing on the internet readily.

Peer mediation: what is it?

Peer mediation is taught by organizations such as Community Boards(CB) in San Francisco to both children in schools and adults. Each panel is made up of three people who help to mediate between two parties whose communication has broken down and can no longer work together to resolve their conflict. The idea is that once you can see things from each other's points of view and start to unobjectify each other, it becomes easier and less agitated to talk about the problem. (An analogy for artists: this is the state when you no longer want any positive feedback on your work and want only constructive criticism to take your work to the next level. You are secure and want only suggestions to change.) It is only at this point, after participants feel understood by the other party, that they are ready to brainstorm and collaborate to find a solution that is beneficial to both.

When the Dalai Lama was asked, "What is your outlook on the middle east? Is there some hope for the future there?" he said, "Too much emotions...too much negative emotions. Frustrations...hatred...anger... I think that's the greatest obstacle. So I think as a first step, this should be cooled down...reduced. Forget these things. I think for the time being, more festivals, more picnics -- let them forget these difficult things, these emotions -- and make personal friend. Then start to talk about these serious matters." (10 Questions for the Dalai Lama)

Peer mediation on SL and the net

Warren Sack mentioned (after his talk at SFAI on 11.19.08) that on the net, the Left and the Right only talk amongst themselves and seldom to each other in a productive way. This problem is less severe in newsgroups, as they are more peer-to-peer and less centralized than blogs which are controlled by blog managers. His piece Agonistics (see the entry below) tries to encourage more cooperative, less antagonistic discussions on the net by rewarding people who use keywords that are later taken up by others.

A mediator and software engineer, Ken White, goes one step further to suggest that it would be a good idea to teach people how to do peer mediation on the net. But can a mediation be done online because of the lack of facial expressions and other nonverbal cues? He pointed out that people online get into flame wars and thus it would be helpful for them to learn how to communicate better.

  Image: Community Boards

Article about CB:
CB web site:

Warren Sack's Agonistics: A Language Game

Warren Sack gave a talk at the Design and Technology Salon: Design Strategies and Conflict Resolution at SFAI on 11.19.08. He talked about his project Agonistics: A Language Game.

The image is from Warren's project site:

This page has a link to his article "The Aesthetics of Information Visualization":

Description of Agonistics: A Language Game (from Warren's project site):

'The images and actions used as metaphors by Chantal Mouffe and other theorists of "agonistic democracy" can be instantiated as interactive, graphical objects and dynamics. This "literal" instantiation will then be a computer game that can played by posting messages to a public, online discussion forum.

Argument is war. In their book Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explain how this is metaphorically true. The language we use to talk about arguments is a language of war. We "attack" our opponents positions and "defend" our own. We "shoot down" opposing arguments. We say that claims are "defensible" or "indefensible." We talk of "winning" and "losing" arguments. In arguing we have "tactics" and "strategies." We are "on target" or "off target" in our criticisms. We "gain ground" or "lose ground." In fact, it is not simply that we talk about arguments like this, this is what we do. Lakoff and Johnson ask us to consider a culture in which arguments are not conceptualized as verbal warfare, but as collaborative dances: participants are not opponents but partners and each counter-move is a balanced, graceful response. That would be a very different world.

Of course the latter is not an alien idea. Philosophers have long distinguished the constructive, cooperative art of conversation (dialectics) from verbal combat (rhetoric). However, the problem has often been that -- when the cool reason of conversation comes in contact with the heated emotion of argumentation -- rhetoric melts dialectic and we get a shouting match rather than a reasoned debate. What can be done?

There is an argument about arguments and it has at least two sides. On one side, the advice given is of a moral quality: To allow reason to prevail over rage, calm everyone down. Make everyone follow the rules of calm and reasonable conversation and disallow the shouts and unruly outbursts of the arguing parties. The other side is neither moral nor immoral but opportunistic. This side is usually the one politicians listen to when they are running for office or ruling a state. The other side starts with the assumption that any verbal interaction will eventually become a shouting match so the best preparation is voice training and acting lessons, so that -- when the transition to shouting is at hand -- one can shout loud enough to make one's emotional appeal. The former is the utopian, Enlightenment ideal of reasoned debate, rational politics, democracy and verbal diplomacy; the latter is our world, the world of image, charisma, negative advertising, power politics, and war.

But, if we want deliberative debate, democracy and diplomacy, how do we get from here to there? Political philosophers have been arguing about arguing for a long time. Even though the most of this territory is occupied by the two sides described above, a third "camp" is emerging. (Hmm. There's that metaphor again!) The third camp tries to break up the fight between the moral conversationalists and the political rhetoricians by attempting to get everyone off the battlefield and to reconsider the shape and forms of the field of engagement. Lakoff and Johnson do this by making us examine the language we use to describe what we are doing when we argue. Political theorists like Chantal Mouffe provide us with alternatives by pointing out that -- even if argument is war -- war is just one form (although a deadly form) of contest between adversaries. Mouffe's alternative to a utopic, moral, deliberative democracy is -- what she calls -- an "agonistic pluralism" where agon is understood as the ancient Greek term denoting "A public celebration of games; a contest for the prize at those games; or, a verbal contest or dispute between two characters in a Greek play" (OED).

Political theorists, like Mouffe, interested in the democratic potential of agonistic contests, oftentimes recast deliberative discussion as a language game -- in the sense invented by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Moreover, this reimagining of politics leans heavily on Friedrich Nietzsche's understanding of agonistics and ancient Greek philosophy. A close look at the writings of this set of political theorists (which must also include Jean-Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Bruno Latour) rewards one with the following insight: just as Lakoff and Johnson show how everyday thinking about arguments draws on a set of metaphorical images and actions, so do these theorists assume a different set of metaphorical images and actions to describe verbal contests -- specifically, game like images and actions. Neither are these images and actions the moral frameworks of, for example, Jurgen Habermas and other moralists hoping for perfect conditions for communicative interaction. Nor, are these images and actions the violent ones implied by the commonsense metaphor "argument is war."

What then are these images and actions? Two sorts of evidence can be gathered from a close reading of these theorists. One sort of evidence is articulated in the form of broad outlines or "sketches" for envisioning such a game. Chantal Mouffe provides an example of such a "sketch" in her article entitled "Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism?": "pluralist politics should be envisaged as a 'mixed-game', i.e., in part collaborative and in part conflictual and not as a wholly co-operative game as most liberal pluralists would have it." More specific, detailed, "diagrammatic" evidence comes from theorists who provide us with, what Gilles Deleuze calls, "thought images." One such influential thought images is that coined by Deleuze and Guattari to describe non-hierarchical forms of knowledge and power; i.e., the rhizome. As demonstrated by online forums, like, such a thought image can influence an extensive information architecture. However, even more substantial than these verbal descriptions are the graphically rendered diagrams that are sometimes ventured by theorists like Bruno Latour in his book Science in Action, a Nietzschean look at the agonistic dynamics of presumably democratic, scientific debate and controversy. Mouffe, Deleuze, Latour and others have provided us with a reimagining of democratic debate as a contest to link, unlink, build and dissolve assemblages of people and things.'

Howard Rheingold's Social Media Classroom

Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs, gave a talk at CCA on 12.02.08 and spoke on his recent project, social media tools for classroom use:

"An early member of the Well (one of the first virtual communities), Rheingold went on in the mid-1990s to cofound the groundbreaking Web communities HotWired and Electric Minds. He served as editor of the Whole Earth Review and editor in chief of the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog. His many books include Virtual Reality, chronicling his odyssey through the world of artificial experience. Now active in Second Life, he teaches (at the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and elsewhere), writes, and consults on social networking." (

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cities in 3D

I am asked to be a spy among the sharks
so I buy a suit and practice in the mirror
I swing my body from side to side 
until my movement becomes streamlined
I learn to breathe in water and live on sardines
Naturally they love me

In time I meet my spouse and have a couple shark-like kids

When finally I am called home again I start my report
"We have much to learn from the sharks"
but by then my words are no longer in any language they can understand
no matter how hard I try to explain

(Adapted from "A Spy" by James Krusoe from Jungle Girl)

Why have roads when you can fly or breathe underwater? Free our cities from 2D flatland. The area where you live may look like this.


That is, if we still live in houses. Underwater is less familiar and offers a bigger space for our imagination.


Shark avatars

A wider range of shark avatars will be available for people to inhabit and role-play. Participants can choose to be a hammerhead, a great white, a blacktip, a whale shark, among others. The role of a shark is to befriend other animals including humans, teach them to swim, and be a guide to the underwater world. In preparing to role-play sharks, participants go through an orientation where they learn to swim proficiently. They also learn the characteristics of the species of shark that they want to role-play. This scenario in SL tries to counter the fear-mongering media portrayal of sharks and teach people that the majority of sharks (356 out of 360 species) are harmless.

Finning of sharks

To counter the media portrayal of sharks and alert people about the finning of sharks, Rob Stewart made the documentary Sharkwater: A large number of sharks are killed for their fins. Many times a shark is dragged onto a boat, its fins cut off as it struggles, then tossed back into the ocean while still alive. Not only is this practice cruel, it is wasteful (over 99 percent of the shark is wasted). Finning of sharks is illegal in most countries, but authorities ignore many illegal shark-finning operations as they bring in millions of dollars. Each year approximately 100 million sharks are killed for their fins. Nearly 90 % of the world's shark populations has been wiped out from finning and our fear of sharks. (

One strategy to counter this is to boycott restaurants that serve shark's fin and to tell them about it. Another strategy is to change the public perception of sharks as man-eating super-predators. (Thanks Jaws... I keep hoping that someone would make a movie similar to Blood Diamonds that would have as big an impact on changing the public perception of sharks as Blood Diamonds had for diamonds.) Sharks do not eat people. People splashing on the surface of the water look like injured animals that some sharks eat, and when the sharks bite the people, they realize their mistake and let go.

Deborah Peterson wrote, "In testament to how friendly some sharks may be to human advance, yours truly actually braved the shallow waters to hug a shark once ... What I found most surprising was the texture of the shark's skin which was rough to the touch, with a very firm body -- not fat, blubbery or slippery as I had imagined. The shark seemed to take my advance to pick it up without a hint of struggle or fear of humankind, in a sense, showing a trust." (


Jordan, blogger at Superforest, wrote "consider it next time you're in the ocean. That shark you so fear... is probably more afraid of you." (


Monday, December 1, 2008

Alex Rivera's The Sleep Dealer

Alex Rivera, digital media artist and filmmaker based in New York, gave a talk at SFAI on 11.18.08. He has just made a science fiction satire on immigration and globalization about a migrant worker telecommuting via virtual reality, to be released in theaters in 2009. Can't wait to see it... It's a concept he started exploring in Why Cybraceros. Also check out his videos Dia De La Independence and The Borders Trilogy. (Thanks Chris, for introducing Alex's works to us.)