Facebook gaming for social justice: America 2049

There’s this badass game I’ve been excited to hear about lately: “America 2049”, which showcases how much better Facebook gaming can be than all that “Farmville” crap. (I don’t mean to be elitist, but, like, really. One game designer I know refers to players of “Farmville”-esque games as “victims”.) I haven’t played it, but word is that “America 2049” involves legitimately engaging puzzles and codes … and real-life tie-in events, which I’m always psyched about. And it’s especially awesome because it’s about social justice. Here’s a profile on Huffington Post; here’s an interview with the company owner and lead actor on Salon; and a more detailed synopsis of the game on the Alternate Reality Gaming Network. Snip from the ARGNet synopsis:

In “America 2049”, the former land of the free has degenerated into the Divided States of America, where sexuality, religion, speech and culture are all controlled and restricted. On the upside: the entire population is on a drug that inhibits aggressive behavior called SerennAide, administered automatically through the water supply. This has led to a decrease in crime rates, an increase in the population’s happiness, and has purportedly helped people to rise above their worst impulses.

Depending on where you stand, this is either a Utopian dream or an Orwellian nightmare. And it is up to you to decide where you stand: alongside the Council for American Heritage (CAH), or with Divided We Fall (DWF).

Snip from Salon:

The game stars a slew of celebrities like Harold Perrineau (“Lost”), Victor Garber (“Alias”), Cherry Jones (“24”), Anthony Rapp (“Rent”) and Margaret Cho. The trailer invites you to look at a world not that far in the future, where civil liberties and social justice just aren’t in the lexicon. “America 2049” explains that you are a special agent working for the Council on American Heritage, with a mission to capture a Ugandan terrorist Ken Asaba (Perrineau) who has recently escaped from an internment camp and may be a carrier for a deadly disease.

The game has a story arc that’s been more than halfway unlocked already, but you can join at any time. I’ve also heard that Breakthrough, the parent company, has been nominated for some awards. Snip from a Breakthrough email:

We're nominated for a Favorite Website Award (FWA), a Katerva Award (stay tuned, we will be listed on their website shortly), and a Games for Change Award! We first attended Games for Change in 2008, to show our video game ICED – I Can End Deportation, the first 3D video game on immigration, and then again in 2009 to show, End Homeland Guantanamos, our interactive experience on inhumane immigrant detention centers. Now, “America 2049” has been nominated for a Games for Change Award for Transmedia! These awards recognize excellence in "games for change" that address current and/or pressing social issues or aim to produce sustainable and positive impact on society.

Here’s how Breakthrough describes itself:

Breakthrough is a global human rights organization that uses the power of media, pop culture, and community mobilization to inspire people to take bold action for dignity, equality, and justice.

I love these folks. Keep up the good work.

5 comments for “Facebook gaming for social justice: America 2049

  1. May 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    This is a fun fantasy, and I would definitely rather people play it than WOW or something, but is playing a game really doing anything about these issues? Or do the producers at least encourage people to donate some time and money to organizations that are fighting this battle IRL?

  2. May 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    You know, I actually don’t know what Breakthrough does about donations to real-life organizations. I know that they partner with real-life orgs in a lot of ways, like for the real-life tie-in events that I mentioned in the post. I heard about them in the first place because they partnered with Chicago’s awesome feminist site Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

    I would ask you, though, whether you’d take the same attitude towards a TV show that’s social-justice-oriented, or a book, or a movie. Or do games get held to a higher bar than other art and media because they’re “lower culture”? Why is it that when Jill posts about a TV show that’s showcasing awesome attitudes, the first questions aren’t about the “more serious” work that the TV show does?

  3. May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Hi guys — Clarisse, thanks for the great post, and Juliet, for the great question. Breakthrough itself actually IS (as Clarisse noted) a human rights organization that uses the tools of pop culture and media to inspire individuals to get engaged and active around issues of social justice. We believe that (and so goes our tagline) that “It starts with you.” So in fact, with this and our other projects (including, e.g., http://www.icedgame.com and http://www.bellbajao.org) we’re already encouraging folks to do more than donate (though donation is great too). We’re encouraging them to act themselves to advance human rights, whether by opposing unjust US immigration policies or ringing the bell (literally or figuratively) on domestic violence behind closed doors. So we’re fighting these battles IRL, too, as you say–just with different tools and targets than other great orgs like, say, Amnesty.

    But enough about Breakthrough! There’s tons of research suggesting that it’s precisely the immersive experience of gaming — more so than the passive experience of TV, say (and don’t get me wrong; I LOVE TV) — that encourages players to try on new identities, solve complex problems creatively, discover new empathies, and thus re-enter the “real” world with altered attitudes and inspired to take action. For more info and tons of examples beyond the (groundbreaking! game-changing!) America 2049, you might check out GamesforChange.org. Their big annual festival, pretty much the Sundance of social-justice games, is coming to New York in June.

    Hope that helps!

  4. Patti
    May 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Thanks for posting about this game. I’ve been playing it on FB off and on this afternoon. Nicely done!

  5. May 17, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Just wanted to respond as another participant- I organized the “real life” event at the Hull-House Museum, and we had over 70 people attend an intense panel on human trafficking. It isn’t the same thing as advocacy, but I absolutely believe that education and dialogue count as “doing something.”

    I was really excited about the way that Breakthrough was able to support and provide a wider audience for our social justice work, and I hope the other sites participating have benefited as well.

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