Some Italian developers have gone to crowdfunding site IndieGoGo to ask for funds to make a game about riots. And to bite Sword & Sworcery’s art style, apparently.
I think this is really fantastic, and seeing this coming out of Italy, which is itself undergoing some popular civic upheaval right now, is really exciting. Part of their pitch reads, “Living in a country drowning in debt and corruption, it is practically impossible for Team ‘Riot’ to find way to fund the project in Italy and we are therefore asking for your help.” (emphasis theirs)
I have some reservations about whether they have any idea what their core mechanics are. I also worry that their dedication to representing “the protest experience” by “attempting to depict both sides of the fight without bias, only objectivity and facts,” may not lead to the most compelling gameplay, even if it might be an interesting approach to journalism.
The fact is that you’re making a game about civilians getting their skulls cracked by armed representatives of the state. In real life, protesters “winning” an encounter after it turns violent is extremely rare. In the end, The Man almost always has the bigger weapons. If the public gains any benefit from a riot, it’s usually in the aftermath, when governments react to public outcry over cracked skulls. This just isn’t how popular strategy games work, so in order to succeed at their stated mission, Team “Riot” may be forced to make some pretty fundamental gameplay innovations, lest they be reduced to a dismissible fantasy that overlooks the reality of power imbalances on the street, or a game where The Man always wins.
Back when I went to Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street protests, I started thinking about how you could adapt the experience of protests and riots into game mechanics. A bit of research revealed that there have been a handful of tabletop strategy and war games that take protest as a model.
Results of said research are after the jump.
CIVIL DISORDER (pdf)
A free war game by UK-based designer Jim Wallman, most recently updated during the 2011 Student Protests, interestingly. Police, firefighters, and paramedics try to manage a late-20th century protest. What’s interesting here is that the game tries to simulate protest, with riot conditions just one of many possible issues that might arise, though the game does encourage the referee to nudge things toward some sort of riot, since war gamers would expect some sort of skull-cracking action at some point. Unfortunately, the protesters themselves are NPCs, who operate on a deterministic model, so players are always taking the side of The Man.
Appeared in the January 1970 issue of Strategy & Tactics, a Hippies vs. Cops game that was designer Jim Dunnigan’s “serious attempt at modeling the 1968 Democratic National Convention.”
RIOT: REVOLTING PEOPLE FROM WATT TYLER TO WATTS
A self-published zine of a game from 1995. Designer Matthew Hartley offers tongue-in-cheek rules for simulating protester-vs-unruly-mob violence. Interestingly, this game provides rules for players take a third role, as journalists who are trying to cover violent encounters without getting swept up themselves.
UP AGAINST THE WALL, MOTHERFUCKER!
Amazingly, this game, about student demonstrations at Columbia University in 1969, was released as a supplement to the student paper, The Columbia Spectator, in 1969. Designed by Chicago, Chicago!’s then 25-year-old Jim Dunnigan, this is a two player game where The Radicals and The Administration vie for influence over various campus groups, Harlem, and other resources.