Magazine article National Defense

Strategists Learn Non-Violent Warfare Tactics

Magazine article National Defense

Strategists Learn Non-Violent Warfare Tactics

Article excerpt

A Pro-democracy group has sponsored a free video game designed to teach political activists how to plan and execute strategic non-violent warfare.

Strategic non-violent warfare sounds like an oxymoron, but its practitioners say it is the most effective way to force regime change.

"It lets them try different things on the computer before they try them in the real world," said Ivan Marovic, a consultant on the game, and a former Serbian student leader who helped organize the protests that ousted Slobodan Milosevic. "I wish I'd had it."

Sponsored by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, the game, called "A Force More Powerful," resembles a cross between a political science model and one of the popular city-builder games. The player represents the chief of staff of a non-violent resistance movement. He gives orders to various characters within the movement, who will attempt to carry out actions such as making speeches and organizing demonstrations.

The non-player-characters are rated for factors such as willpower and ambition. "There is a balancing act between the different egos and wills of the individuals involved," said Bob McNamara, a producer at Breakaway Games, a Hunt Valley, Md., developer of entertainment games and military simulations. "They will always attempt to carry out your orders, but if they don't like the task, the chances of success will be modified. We wanted to capture the dynamic of the Fact that you're in a movement of volunteers, and they won't always do what you say."

The game's artificial intelligence controls the members of the targeted regime, who can be persuaded or bribed to become neutral or even defect.

"Governments are not monolithic," said McNamara. "Suppose you have a regime character who is intolerant of violence. If that person were to see the regime use violent repression, he might become disgusted. Or suppose the regime is conscious of its international image, whether for aesthetic or economic reasons. If one of the regime members is a businessman with a lot of international business ties, then going to the international community to put pressure on him might work."

"A general will not shoot demonstrators if support for the regime is too low," agreed Marovic, who has advised pro-democracy movements in Georgia and Ukraine. "This happened in the Ukraine, where the security forces changed sides."

While "A Force More Powerful" sounds like a more sophisticated version of political entertainment games such as Tropico, where players impersonate a dictator, or Revolution, where they try, to overthrow one, what makes this design unique is its emphasis on methodical military-style planning. Indeed, the process resembles how U.S. military commanders war game a situation by considering various alternatives and their consequences.

When a player begins a scenario, a series of menus force him to create a strategic estimate. First, he chooses his goals from a list that includes regime change, altering specific regime policies such as racial discrimination, persuading security forces not to intervene and gaining the support of the media. "You can devise a strategy, based on what you feel is the best way to proceed," McNamara said. …

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