Why We Riot: A New Game Seeks to Explore this Question

Gaming, Religion — By on March 6, 2013 at 7:00 am

Leonard Menchiari has been experiencing this form of protest in person, and the game ‘Riot’  was born as a way to express it and to tell the stories of these fights. What is it that triggers such a strife? What does a cop feel during the conflict? In “Riot”, the player will experience both sides of a fight in which there is no such thing as ‘victory‘ or ‘defeat‘.

In what has become the purpose of all of our writing and film-making (that is, story telling, usually without taking a side, and often declaring that there really are no sides to take), a small game development studio from Italy has stepped forward to make a game about riots. The purpose, as far as I can tell from their ‘fund us’ page, is to provide us with a way to sympathize with both sides of riots. Regardless of your political persuasion, the game seems to scream, you will learn what it feels like to be a protester and a member of the police force.

I’ve argued before that we can learn a lot from video games, and that they provide broad canvasses with which to paint unique moral brushstrokes (ones that we can learn from), and Riot seems to take a stand somewhere in the same area, at least. It seeks, explicitly, to tell us a story that is worth knowing. The Verge described the game as a ‘playable documentary,’ which should peak the ears of many gamers. The subject itself–that is, riots–have interested psychologists, sociologists, and others for quite some time. But the importance of a game like this doesn’t stop there.

You see, this is a game that explicitly attempts to explore moral ground: it begs you to get to know each side of a riot, hoping you’ll stand in their shoes a little more strongly than you did before you played. While games have done this before, to some extent, I’m happy to see a game decide to bring this to the forefront of its purposes. Much like film can force us into a sympathetic position, so do documentaries seek explicitly to do so. Games following suit strikes me as a good move for the industry, as a whole.

As Christians, we should be offering grace wherever we can, broadly and with little (if any) reservations. It’s easy to stand in a place where you look at others and judge them for their actions, and a riot is a potent example of a situation about which we quickly make assumptions. Some may tend towards favoring the police (“Why would anybody rise up in such a violent manner?”), while others may be tempted to jump into the mob (“Stand against injustice!”), but the point is that we rarely take the time to understand the other side. What makes the offender unjust, and what makes the rioter violent? If people are made in the image of God, seeking to understand them may help us understand God.

That’s not to say that there isn’t ever a ‘right’ side in a riot. Perhaps there are right and wrong sides in some given instance of a riot. Sometimes the rioters may be justified in their stance, though perhaps violence is never the right answer. And sometimes the police are right to stop a riot. Discerning the difference is rather difficult, and the temptation might be to say we can never come to a conclusion. While I think that takes it too far, a game like Riot may provide us with the reminder we need: simply by playing as both sides, we can feel the stress of conflict from different perspectives.

And any time we are encouraged to understand another position, even if we end up disagreeing with some of the conclusions or end results, we take a step towards honoring the image of God not only in our theological convictions, but with our daily lives.


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