When it comes to human rights activism, digital games are usually not the first thing to come to mind. Yet in this age of technological advancement, many activists have questioned what new forms their efforts can take. Modern technology has opened new horizons, and as it turns out, gaming and digital connections are growing forces in the fight against closed societies.
When the human rights crowdsourcing website Movements.org met with World Knockout--a game mocking North Korea--the innovative result was a human rights-themed application now available to a global smart-phone audience.
Tim Snyder and David Weiss, cofounders of Thirteenth Floor Studios and creators of World Knockout, had been working on other projects before coming up with the idea of a game that would mock the North Korean dictatorship. The idea started after Kim Jung Un began a dispute to protest the release of the movie, The Interview. "We thought it would be funny to create a satirical game everybody could play that could support the idea of free speech," said Snyder.
"We wanted to see if we could bring attention to real world topics through gamification, said Weiss. "Everybody wants to beat up Kim Jung Un, so we said, 'Why not?'" The creators brainstormed comedic and satirical strategies before coming to the current concept of World Knockout.
The actual game consists of multi-scene fighting challenges for which the ultimate goal is to "knock out" Kim Jung Un and his military guards. Once the player completes the satisfying conquest of defeating the North Korean dictator, the player can travel throughout the North Korean territory, unleashing various weaponry and humorous antics, until the player reaches the final level. "The game play is just simple enough that you really get at your frustrations," said Weiss. (Trailer)
Snyder and Weiss connected with David Keyes, a leader in virtual human rights efforts, who introduced Snyder and Weiss to Movements. Keyes suggested the two could find marketing, developing, and legal help from Movements. "He was really instrumental in making it work," said Weiss.
"This was a tremendous opportunity for us and it was really positive," said Weiss. "With Movements, we were able to quickly get people who wanted to help us, which is different than having a startup and gaining workers that way."
"It was really connecting with Movements that built the momentum to continue to work on the project," said Snyder.
"We might've shelved it if the wind wasn't blowing the way it was. I sat up many nights thinking we should hold off with the game because we didn't know if we'd have an audience. But when we came to Movements we saw that they were organized in a different way and people were just interested," said Weiss.
"We don't see this as our first and last game that we bring out," said Snyder. "Part of the reason we call it World Knockout is because there are a lot of places around the world where freedom of speech is limited. We're working against those forces. We bring to light important issues like freedom of speech and totalitarianism, and we use humor to make it easier for people to criticize them."
"The idea of the game is to draw attention," said Weiss. "We see this as gamified world news."
The game has sparked enough controversy that it has even been banned from Apple stores. The game is available to Android users for free on Google Play. However, the game has received positive feedback despite the controversies. "It was pretty exciting that through Movements we were able to connect people to America," said Snyder.
After the helped they received from Movements, Snyder and Weiss are now creating marketing campaigns for the game. Their next step is to expand the game to a wider audience--especially to those in South Korea, where much of the fan base comes from--using Movements again in the future.
"It gives us insight to a closed society," said Snyder. With evidence suggesting that action gaming can help with learning, the result is a three-fold win: entertainment, action, and human rights awareness all-in-one. Of course, the most complex effects boils down to the most basic of efforts, and as Weiss said, "We're just telling a story that people need to see."
Crowdsourcing the struggle for human rights. Be part of the solution at Movements.org. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Movements.