We all know video games aren’t real. But we also know that the media we consume affects us greatly — sometimes in ways we don’t understand.
The scenes of war users navigate in games like Call of Duty and Battlefield have been lauded for their realism; their publishers hire military consultants to help them make the games, and the United States military has used both games as a recruitment tool.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Kerry Richardson and Northern Illinois University professor Steve Ciampaglia believe that the use of video games in recruitment does a disservice to young people who are swayed by pixels to put on the uniform. Because of this, they plan to work with Chicago teens to create counter-recruitment video games.
“Commercial video games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield focus on the warfare and weaponry so these games are going to be about what it’s really like to be a member of the U.S. military,” Ciampaglia told DNA Info.
The pair of media professors have a strong track record of working with Chicago teenagers to create socially conscious video games through their group Plug-In Studio.
In 2015, they worked with 13 black teens from Chicago’s South Side to create video games that reflected life from the teens’ point of view. The games dealt directly with issues like white privilege, police brutality, immigration and peer pressure.
One of the participants, Gerald Brown, said she felt the project was a step in the right direction towards balancing the video game industry demographically and narratively. She said, “not a lot of programmers are people of color, and so you have these white people just programming these games off of stereotypes. Black guys stealing cars and selling drugs. A lot of times, there’s no women involved with all of this.”
Ciampaglia and Richardson hope to be able to change that. “We wanted people to learn to make their own images and their own representation, and to take these games and put them out in the world,” Richardson said.
The games were set up arcade-style on a street after they were completed. The community was invited to come and play them, and to talk with their creators about their themes. The evening was a smashing success, with Richardson saying that with each game, she saw the teens’ work “engaging people and putting them into this place where they’re forced to consider [these issues].”
Now off the street and on the internet, the games can be played here. Ciampaglia and Richardson plan to have the next set of teen-created socially aware games—the realistic military games—completed by Veterans Day.