PV Thought of the Week: Can Apps “Inform” the Public?
“Developed in around two weeks, the game allows users to explore the options open to the Syrian rebels as they push the conflict to its endgame. Each choice the user makes has consequences – the types of military units you may deploy, the political paths you choose to tread. Not only does each choice impact the current situation but your choices may also impact the final outcome. Users can play and replay events to see how different choices on the ground might lead to different outcomes.”
There is also a chance to sample the game.
This brings up a couple of thoughts and questions:
- The game is meant to approximate “real life.” Why would this approximation yield satisfaction to players? Is it because they want to learn how to be better rebels?
- The game was developed in two weeks! If this kind of technology — where news aggregation can be translated into artificial intelligence and then repackaged into a real-time civil war simulation — proves valuable, it opens a host of new opportunities for rebel groups and opposition movements in general. I’ve discussed before the inherent difficulties of strategic planning facing non-state actors: they rarely have the time, resources, manpower, or space available for realistic simulations. But if games like Endgame:Syria become more ubiquitous and speak to ongoing civil conflicts, simulations may eventually prove to be ample substitutes for real war games.
- If the latter hypothetical were to come true, then here’s an interesting research question: does war-gaming improve rebel performance in civil war? Governments certainly seem to think that war games help their own forces’ military performance. But it remains to be seen whether this perception would extend to rebel military performance. My hunch is that this would be largely contingent on the level of coordination and organizational discipline within the rebel group — which is noticeably lacking in Syria. But where rebel groups are well-organized, easily accessible tools like this may provide opportunities for more strategic (rather than just tactical) approaches to fighting. I can see why Apple would be dubious of approving the game.
- Apple rejected Endgame: Syria. Is this because of technical specification problems, or because they do not want to put their brand behind something that trains people to be better rebels? If the former, then the rejection’s not a very interesting story. But if it’s the latter, here is an interesting example of a powerful corporation anticipating a moral hazard down the line.