Amnesty International: battling human rights violators
For Amnesty Netherlands, one of my student teams at MediaLAB Amsterdam developed Mr Powerful in fall 2014: a game that let students experience, in a playful way, how Amnesty International takes action against the violation of Freedom of Speech and persuade students to contribute to this cause. In the game you play the oppressor who violates Human Rights and is therefore criticised by different channels. As a player you experience the rising pressure. It is up to you to withstand the pressure and remain calm.
Getting out of your head
The biggest challenge in coaching this project was to overcome the problem of ‘getting stuck’ in ideas. The students with different backgrounds (IT, cultural studies, design) would initially be happy generating ideas regularly, but would get really stuck working them through. So eventually there were a lot of ideas with theoretical backing but none of them really developed or grew. After a few frustrating moments I encouraged them to really stop talking and writing about ideas altogether and to start creating and showing them so they could experience where the blank gaps and unclear moments and aspects were in the game.
Why thinking is just not the same as doing
The result of these exercises was that we had these really rich ideas, layered with meaning in their aesthetic choices, storylines, content and gameplay. Whether this resulted in ‘great’ games isn’t really at stake here, but it was remarkable that instead of thinking and talking and imagining, the making sparked discussions about very concrete handles for next iterations, and at a really high speed! The brain is a pretty awesome thing but it just isn’t really made to keep enormous amounts of information and meaning inside, and simultaneously communicate about it with words in all that marvelous detail in a way that it comes across in all its layered richness. This workout of externalising the brain and literally ‘working them through’ like dough before you let it rest to rise, was so powerful.
Working it out
I think that each member of this particular team had to step very far out of their comfort zone to get to the point where they could tap into their creative resources in this way. This took a while longer than everybody expected, which of course is disappointing at times. Because by the time you get to the end, you can’t help but ask: ‘why weren’t we able to do it like this before?’. But the learning curve was a beauty. In terms of seeing students grow in 5 months time, and finding confidence in practices formerly unknown to them, I think this project is among the most inspiring and personally successful ones I’ve facilitated.
Students: Radoslav Gulekov, Fay Gramberg, Lisa Maier, Rob Boerman. Martijn Kors & Menno Deen (researchers Lectoraat Games & Play), Roland van Veen (Amnesty Nederland).