On display in the Breakaway Games suite at the recent Serious Games Summit in Washington, D.C., A Force More Powerful
was arguably one of the most intriguing products at the show. It was
conceived and executed by a group that includes the International
Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), documentary filmmakers
York-Zimmerman and Breakaway Games, Ltd.
Breakaway Games' A Force More Powerful
by the York-Zimmerman documentary of the same name, which was aired on
PBS in 2000 and narrated by Ben Kingsley, the game is a turn-based
strategy game that currently consists of ten pre-built scenarios and an
editing system that will allow players to create scenarios of their own.
the game is a wealth of real-world and theoretical experience on the
subject of nonviolent conflict, including Dr. Peter Ackerman, chairman
of the ICNC and Ivan Marovic of Otpor, the Serbian resistance movement
that played a critical role in the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic. The
project supervisor is Steve York, who created the original documentary.
is neither a review nor a complete look at the product, but a first
impression, and, as such, I will not attempt to provide every detail of
the game, but suffice it to say, I think this game looks intriguing
and… yes… fun to play. Fun in the sense that it provides real gaming
challenges while dealing with difficult and even more challenging
of the first impressions I got was the graphic style of the game.
Although there is an overview map that is done in a slick, modern SimCity
sort of graphic, most of the game is played using what look like crude
notebooks and whiteboards with handwriting, color highlighting and
various methods of marking items such as circling in red or checkmarks.
It looks something like a digital reproduction of a collection of
handwritten notes. And at first glance, it looks like a prototype
that is only the first impression. Very quickly, with a bit of
orientation into the game's reality, it becomes clear that this is
really far closer to what people in a (generally) under-funded
underground political movement would be using to plan their activities.
In short, it was a far more realistic environment than a bunch of slick
printouts, windows dialogs and other more computer-like displays would
have been. In fact, it supported the game's immersion beautifully and
appeared to be highly functional, as well.
course, the interfaces do things that we can't do with paper – such as
scrolling lists within the page or overlaying different data set
information at the touch of a button. Yes, these are somewhat magical
notebooks and whiteboards, but they still convey the atmosphere of the
world of the underground movement.
for actual gameplay – the game includes information about specific
individuals – leaders of the movement and other important figures – and
each significant faction. For individuals, there are a number of
associated characteristics, such as the “violence unwillingness”,
public influence, ambition, and will. For factions, there is
information about their support of the various important elements of
the struggle – for instance, do they have strong, weak or neutral
support for the current regime? For the workers? For insurgency? Etc.
game uses a consistent color-coding system, with green representing a
positive value, yellow neutral and red, negative. It's easy to see at a
glance, throughout the game, the relative positions and/or strengths
and weaknesses of specific groups and individuals. Basic states, such
as fear, enthusiasm, religious and ethnic affiliations, and policy
preferences are pivotal variables for determining and predicting how
certain groups and individuals may respond at any given moment in the
game. Sometimes the goal is to raise a group's enthusiasm for change
higher than their level of fear of reprisals. Of course, there is a
variety of actions available to accomplish this goal. In fact, many of
the strategies available to players were distilled from one of the
seminal works on nonviolence, “The Politics of Nonviolent Action” by
Dr. Gene Sharp (http://www.peace.ca/genesharp.htm). From a list of 198 possible actions, the game developers condensed the list to 84.
So how do you get things done to further your cause? Basically, AFMP
employs a system that can be described as “subject-verb-object.” The
way it works is that you first pick someone from your list of available
agents, then pick an action for them to carry out, and finally pick a
target for the action. A common example is to pick someone who has good
fundraising skills or good relationships with a specific group, for
instance, then pick the “fundraising” action and, finally, pick the
group you want them to target for raising funds. You can set a time
period for the action – say two weeks – and the game will track this
and all other ongoing actions. On a specific screen of the “magic”
whiteboard, you can track the progress of all ongoing actions.
is a very simplistic view of how the game works, but because of the
variety of variables, agents and other scripted factors – such as
cultural attitudes among factions – contained within any given
scenario, I suspect playing it will lead to all kinds of emergent
behaviors, and players may adopt a variety of strategies for playing –
some more successful than others.
is never a direct option for people within the movement (players), but
violence can erupt, especially if the agents who are sent into an
action have not had sufficient nonviolent training, or if they are
simply more predisposed toward violence. For this reason, one of the
player's challenges is to pick the right agents and the right groups to
employ within a given circumstances. For instance, insurgency groups
may prove to be useful, but they can't be controlled as well and may
resort to violence if met with significant resistance.
game is rich in features and feedback mechanisms, and even contains
real-time rendered cut scenes that show events that take place using
parameters from the game state. The city map view identifies specific
areas of the city, and overlays can quickly tell you their current
state of fear, enthusiasm, etc. In addition, key locations are
highlighted on the city map, allowing players to direct actions to
those locations – such as government buildings, newspaper offices, etc.
To thicken the plot even more, players can send infiltrators into the
enemy system, but the enemy can do likewise.
In addition, there is the Resistopedia (with a tip of the hat to Civilization), which players can use to learn more about the elements and concepts that are included in the game.
offers a great variety of potential strategy, learning and gameplay,
along with access to immediate information about the game state and the
state of various agents and groups. From my brief look at the game, I
was impressed that the elements of good gaming – challenge and long,
short and mid-range goals, rewards, feedback and experimentation, to
name a few – were all present. While many so-called “serious” games may
be relegated to a small and focused audience, I think AFMP
could merit the attention of any gamer who likes to think, be
challenged and immerse him or herself into a rich world of intrigue
with significant stakes. The fact that the game models important
real-world situations and events makes it all the more powerful. And
the addition of an editor to allow players to create their own
scenarios promises a wealth of new content and interesting twists and
plot variations from the product's users.
a final personal note, I can attest from experience that this game
accurately models many of the challenges and struggles of an
underground or citizen movement whose goal is to affect nonviolent
change and public awareness, in a situation with volatile factions and
the true potential for violence. From that perspective, I kept saying
“aha” when I received the demo of this game. Time and time again I
recognized the situations, struggles and choices that had to be made in
such circumstances. In short, this game rang true for me.