‘People Power’ interview with Steve York

 

 

If the name Steve York rings a bell, it’s probably because you know his previous transmedia project, A Force More Powerful. The documentary, book and more importantly, the game are regarded as pioneering work in the social impact world. His company, York Zimmerman Inc. just released their new game to promote non-violent resistance, People Power. Steve spent some time with me to answer a few questions and we’re happy to share his responses with our community:
Games for Change: Your previous game, A Force More Powerful, is considered a “classic” among social impact game enthusiasts. One of its major praises was how it presented the idea of non-violent revolution. Why is this subject so important to your team?

Steve York: As you probably know, we’re in regular contact with resistance and opposition activists in many countries around the world, for whom civil resistance and nonviolent strategies are the preferred and perhaps only viable methods of conflict, against a variety of authoritarian or repressive rulers. Our previous game was expressly created to meet the needs of these activists and leaders, to help them learn how to think strategically. Of course, we hoped that the game would be interesting even for those who are not involved in actual conflicts; we’re glad that so many students and others have played it. We’ve never doubted the importance of this subject matter – civil resistance is rapidly becoming the most important mechanism for social and political change in our world. Many scholars and policy makers see it as a viable and preferable alternative to the use of military force.

What I liked the most about playing People Power is that all the actions you do in the game are things I can do in real life, right now. What did you want the player to come away with or learn after playing through the game?
Our game won’t let you defy gravity or vaporize your opponent, but it will help you understand how ordinary people, using tactics that are widely accessible, can prevail in conflicts that may seem hopeless. I don’t mean to minimize the difficulty. It’s not easy in the real world and it’s not easy in the game – we’re hearing some complaints about that. We may adjust the difficulty level, but very reluctantly and slightly. We have more than one goal, but if there’s one concept we hope players will come away with, it’s that tactics—no matter how ingenious or brilliant, how well-funded, planned and executed—are not enough.. You may have spectacular short-term results. But the game can’t be won without an over-arching strategy that binds tactics into a larger whole, makes the best use of skills and resources, in the right sequence. Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton understood this quite well – so did Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King – it’s just that the weapons are different.

The game is out now, how can others get their hands on it?

People Power is distributed only via download – there will be no physical disks. With a file size of 44MB, downloading is fast. (Our earlier game was over 700MB, available only on CD.) The smaller footprint is partly because we decided against a 3D user interface (which we had in the first game). While adding little to game play or learning, 3D imposed unhelpful hardware requirements and cost. People Power runs on both PCs and Macs (even Linux). Multi-platform compatibility is thanks to Adobe AIR, which must be downloaded and installed before the game. Users can design their own scenarios with the separately downloadable Scenario Builder (20MB), which is free.  More detailed hardware requirements are on the game website www.PeoplePowerGame.com

I’ve noticed a lot of games in the commercial gaming space are providing features like the Scenario Builder you mentioned. Why was it important for People Power to have a Scenario Builder as well?

We see enormous potential for the Scenario Builder and the game website. Not everyone will have the patience or persistence to design scenarios, but in time, we expect user-created scenarios (or user modifications of our official scenarios) to be posted on the website so others can play them, discuss them, and probably modify them further, re-post them, and so on. This may not happen immediately, but we expect an online community of nonviolent strategists to form, many of whose members will bring direct experience from real world conflicts, some of which may still be unfolding, some of which may benefit from the process. We also hope this will be a public space for discussion and criticism, a place where ideas and experiences will be available to practitioners as well as students and scholars. It also seems likely that developers and would-be developers or designers) of strategy games and serious games, or both, could usefully participate in such an on-line community in ways that might inspire or contribute to other and better games.

My last question: I’ve noticed that you’ve used the term ‘we’ a lot. Who else produced this game along side you?

I always use the first person plural ‘we’ when describing this project. I’m just the producer; the real work was done by others: Our core systems designer is Ivan Marovic, a co-founder of the Serbian youth movement which was critical in defeating Slobodan Milosevic; our lead designer is Chris Maka; software development is by Andrew Palumbo and his colleagues at Art & Logic; our associate producer is Hope Green.

For more information about Steve’s company, York Zimmerman Inc., visit their website:
http://yorkzim.com/

For more information about the transmedia project, A Force More Powerful, visit the official website:
http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/

To get a copy of People Power, go to its website now:
http://www.peoplepowergame.com/

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