Game developer Game the News strives to link important news and often weighty topics with the interactive experience that games offer. This is the case with “Endgame: Syria,” which examines the ongoing Syrian Civil War. According to the group’s website
We are the world’s first news correspondents who cover global events as games. As news breaks, we create own own twist on events in a playable form. We are gamers at heart, so we speak game fluently – we also share an interest in the real world too and so want to explore what is going on around us. We think that one way to explain news is via the international language of play, so we use games as a medium to explore issues and events: we game the news.
By developing their games using a rapid-prototyping technique, the developers are able to produce news-related games in the course of a week or two. In this way, Game the News is able to bring topical games to the consumer’s fingertips without sacrificing timeliness.
“Endgame: Syria” is their weightiest game yet, attempting to clarify the complexities of the war in a format that makes it easy to digest. The user plays as the rebels, making decisions as both a political and military leader. The conflict has been as much about diplomacy as military strength, and the game reflects that reality. Progress is measured in terms of support that the rebels and the regime both have. Political actions are oriented towards garnering support, while military actions cost support, making making it both a resource and the goal.
Gameplay is conducted in two parts. The Political Phase involves choosing from a number of options that will affect rebel support, available military options, or regime support. The user can take two actions, ranging from garnering support from the international community to neutralizing the regime’s political moves. As that phase closes, a summary of net change in support is shown, and the player moves on to the Military Phase. In this section the user can choose up to four assets to oppose the four the regime makes. Each asset has a rating for attack and defense, as well as cost in support, civilian casualties, and potential for political fallout. The military matchup reflects the reality in Syria as well. The rebels options are typical for insurgencies: infantry, politically-risky mujahideen (Islamist fighters), technicals, assassins, and the occasional anti-air unit or captured tank. The regime, however, has tanks, artillery, attack helicopters, and fighter/bomber aircraft. The result is that the player has to choose the matchup while considering military gain and potential political fallout. The game ends when the player chooses to accept a peace agreement that is brought about by critically low support for either the rebels or the regime.
“Endgame: Syria” keeps the player on their toes by blurring the lines between cause and effect. Advantageous military options can result in a severe loss of support, and weakening the regime politically may be preferable to acquiring more effective weapons. If taken only as a game for a smartphone, “Endgame” is entertaining and engaging, albeit a bit slow-paced. As an interactive experience that sheds light on the complexities of one of the bloodiest civil wars of the present day, it is groundbreaking. From personal experience in playing the game, it is hard to accept a peace agreement when so many have died, and it is possible to play for hours without gaining the upper hand for the rebels. The Syrian Civil War is extremely hard to understand, and no end seems to be in sight, but this game provides a window into the tragic game that rebel fighters play every day.