Prime Edition

Antonia Filmer

Gaming that’s ripped from the headlines

Narco Guerra

Dr Tomas Rawlings is making things happen in the gaming world. Rawlings founded the Bristol Games Hub (BGH) with Debbie Rawlings and Ben Trewhella in 2012, which is an enormous pay-as-you-go office space for all aspects of this exponentially developing industry. One in three people in an expanding demographic in U.K. and Europe play games and the mobile games market has doubled in size in just a year. Included in the BGH space is Debbie and Tomas Rawlings' own business Auroch Digital, a media consultancy studio for games development and production. BGH hosts weekly popular "anti-socials" to share and stimulate ideas around games.

For a lot of people, gaming is their primary entertainment source. Rawlings' big idea is GameTheNews, or using games to cover current affairs in place of radio or newspapers; the concept is to use interactivity to explore a real-world event. Presently, he is working on a news game with the BBC. Research reveals that a high percentage of game players are concerned with morals and governance ethics as a result of playing games. "Games stimulate these thoughts and we need to give gamers meaty content. Video games are being used to talk about social issues — particularly depression and mental health. Games gives a voice to marginalised people. We are also using them to teach math and engineering," says Rawlings, who has a strong social conscience; he was previously an assistant psychologist and social worker.

He believes newspapers are static and the competition has changed — news apps are available on Twitter and Facebook and these could potentially be news games. "In order to stay relevant news online has to start becoming interactive," he says. Around 90% of young people play video games in one form or another, and Rawlings is investigating how to communicate with them.

It began with a host of satirical cartoon games for news events such as the U.K. horsemeat scandal, which produced the Cow Crusher — an irreverent game about a meat processing plant, or the NSA hacking story that inspired Snowdon's Endless Run, where the gamer is the whistleblower weighing vested interests. One that made Nigel Farage rant was UKIK, with a thinly disguised "Nicholas Fromage" kicking immigrants over the white cliffs off Dover or an Angry Birds version that threw assorted stuff ( eggs, shoes etc.) at various politicians. Now there are loads of satirical and serious political games, and gaming is a means of free expression (we all know the amount of trouble that people can get into with that).

Rawlings is the market leader for topical interactive news games. His Narco Guerra, a challenging and tactical newsgame, takes you to the frontline of Mexico's war on drugs. The game has the chief of police (the gamer) trying to stamp out the cartels whilst dealing with corruption within the police force itself. It was the top app store game when it was released. Rawlings consulted Transform, a drug policy think tank, before creating it.

The other news game that folks have not stopped talking about is Endgame: Syria. While playing this, you explore the geopolitical options open to Syrian rebels as they push the conflict to its endgame — the types of military units deployed, the political paths to tread, the various support offered from third parties... Each choice has consequences impacting the current situation and the final outcome is to win the war and/or lose the peace. Gamers can replay events to see how different choices on the ground might lead to different outcomes. To demonstrate how reactive industry is becoming, Rawlings developed Endgame in two weeks with five people. Rawlings' next release will be Jack the Ripper: Shadow Over Whitechapel, a playable documentary reflecting on the 125 years since Jack The Ripper terrorised London. Players will interact with protagonists, investigate and put the story together, drawing parallels between contemporary society and this nefarious crime.

India's gaming scene up to now has been regarded as an outsourcing centre, but now India's games have begun to reflect its culture: such as Angry Brides — a parody addressing social issues.

 
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