Last week, members of the Union of Islamic Student Societies in Iran announced plans to publish a game played from the Iranian side of an Iran-US conflict, in response to Kuma's American-centered game Assault on Iran. Now, Gamepolitics says that Kuma has issued a press release about a "part three" sequel to this proposed Iranian game. Gamepolitics:
The New York-based company issued a press release on Friday which carried the headline, "Kuma Reality Games Sparks Virtual Dialogue With Iran Over Nuclear Arms Dispute"
The "dialogue," however, appears to exist only as an additional downloadable episode of Kuma War called "Assault on Iran, Pt. 3: Payback in Iraq." As described by the company, the new episode is "a direct response to 'Commander Bahman,' a game being developed by the Union of Islamic Student Societies. 'Assault on Iran, Pt. 3: Payback in Iraq' begins where the Iranian game reportedly leaves off, with Iranian forces attacking US troops in Iraq to recover a captured nuclear scientist. By re-imagining the Iranian story from multiple points of view, Kuma hopes to bring to the foreground key issues at stake in the current nuclear standoff and create a game-powered forum for frank dialogue on the real-world conflict."
Livejourno IQpierce runs down a list of why this is both cool and uncool:
One thing that games can do better than any other artistic medium is allow for a person to "live a day in another man's shoes." In other words, a game can put you in your enemy's situation, let you live through the same things they go through, and have to make the same choices they do."
I normally played Balance of Power from the American perspective. But one day, I tried playing it from the Russian side. I discovered then that the game was not symmetric. The Russians had a lot more manpower, but a lot less money. Although they could easily send in troops to prop up a government they were supporting, they couldn’t buy much friendship with economic aid. And that wasn’t all. They were surrounded by a ring of steel: NATO in the west, Japan in the east, Canada over the pole. Even though China was a Communist country too, it was hostile and suspicious. While the U.S. had Britain, France, Germany, and Japan for allies, most of the U.S.S.R.’s friends were poor as church mice.
For the first time in my life, I got a direct and immediate insight about why the Russians seemed so paranoid, so confrontational (this was during the Reagan administration, remember). The hugely powerful United States and its allies had declared that the entire Soviet way of life was wrong, and were using their unimaginable wealth to turn the world against them, hedging them in, denying them their rightful role as a great power in the community of nations.
Of course, the kinds of insights gained from playing both sides of the Cold War in a game like Balance of Power won't necessarily transfer to squad shooters of the sort produced by Kuma. Kuma ballyhoos that their games allow players to "understand" the conflicts they depict, but this understanding is merely a tactical one: you can better understand what kinds of weapons were used, the layout of the battlezones, etc.
True understanding would have to go beyond this to allow for some sort of insight into the subjectivity of the other side: in other words, it must elicit some form of empathy, just as Balance of Power allowed one player to get "inside the Soviet mind." Whether a tit-for-tat rollout of tactical shooter games can provide this kind of revelation remains to be seen. Otherwise, this "dialog" will merely prove to be the continuation of ideological war by other means.