It would be difficult for earlier generations to imagine that a defining battlespace in the struggle for the preservation of democracy would be a place that does not even physically exist: cyberspace.
Nor could the generation that fought the Cold War ever imagine our adversaries would adopt as their Plan B an invasion through the unguarded global highways known as the internet and social media.
But make no mistake: democratic societies and political institutions are under sustained attack from an ongoing digital and social media invasion by foreign state actors.
To combat such threats, we need a new set of tools that can allow the forces of freedom, democracy and human rights to play offense rather than defense in the digital realm.
In order to give timely visual expression to this threat – and one of our proposed remedies – we decided to modify the world’s most popular video game to feature the single most prominent villain of the disinformation age.
This was the birth of Grand Theft Democracy:
Why would we satirically marry a video game to a topic as serious as foreign disinformation?
In the struggle against all sources of oppression and threats to human rights and freedom, we must be prepared to adapt to new realities and new challenges.
We need a new set of tools that can allow the forces of freedom, democracy and human rights to play offense.
When the marketplace changes, so do our ideas and our models.
Our world today is experiencing a tectonic shift in how we communicate, consume content, learn and develop habits, memories and a belief set that will be with us forever.
Start at the beginning
Every day, approximately 360,000 people are born. The most important phase of our brain’s formation occurs between birth and age 25. It’s when memories, habits and knowledge take hold and often lasts with us for the remainder of our lives.
In today’s world, there are more young people than ever before. Approximately 41% of the global population of 7.7 billion is age 24 or under. In Africa 41% are under age 15 and in Asia and Latin America, where 65% of the world’s population lives, it is 25%.
Meanwhile, our decisions related to how we learn and entertain ourselves have become more centralized than ever before. Two companies reach the majority of the 4.5 billion people online via six of their platforms.
They are Facebook (FB, Instagram, WhatsApp, FB Messenger) and Google (Google and YouTube).
The average person, worldwide, gets their first phone at the age of 10. The next 15 years, which represents a pivotal time in the development of our brain, will be spent interacting with this device as the center of our universe.
Habits change. As an example, our attention spans are 1-3 seconds before we decide to move to the next piece of content.
We have billions of younger people who may never grasp the logic of buying a printed newspaper or sitting in front of a television every night. And yet they will spend an average of six hours per week gaming, with many gamers spending far more time than the global average.
None of this is surprising. It also reminds us that to reach people, we need to understand how they want to be reached.
Our view is this trend will only accelerate due to technology advance.
The acceleration of technology worldwide will make our current way of communicating look rather old-school. The workplace, the family room, our cars, our health, our ability to access content faster than ever It’s game-changing, literally.
It is not hard to imagine a future where the gaming platform becomes the central meeting point for entertainment, e-commerce, chat, news, search and integration with the workplace.
We're already seeing the first stages of it in games like Fortnite.
The world’s bad actors already understand this evolution and are taking full advantage of it, whether it is disinformation campaigns from countries and organizations, a half a trillion dollar counterfeit industry, the ability to sell illegal drugs online, the sexual trafficking of youth or a way to interfere with elections, technology is, unfortunately, helping bad actors.
We know the security risk for our world and its citizens is growing. The question is what we do about it and where we focus.
So, where do we turn? Well, the best location is what we are describing. Go to where we already spend our time, which is gaming.
We work with studios and their talented teams to modify games we love with storylines that educate.
Gaming is a content choice built to entertain us. It is meant to become a habit that we can’t break. It’s meant to lock us into certain characters and genres of stories that make us excited to download the next episode or version. It could become a content choice designed to inform us and shape our beliefs to build a better world.
It’s why most games fail, why most movies do poorly at the box office and, on the flip side, why studios love movie franchises. We know what we want. We lock in and then we wait for what’s next.
Reusing the familiar
This has shaped our thinking on how corporations, governments and other entities can successfully tap into the world of gaming.
We identify the most relevant games for your audience. The most successful games. And then we modify those games, so they can take on new angles that stay aligned with the core story and approach.
For example, you might be wondering…
- How will people learn about the value of freedom?
- How will we learn how to prepare during a pandemic or national emergency?
- How will we understand the long-term impact of climate change?
- How will we decide to protect against sexual trafficking?
- How will we learn how to protect our personal security online?
Here’s what we do
We work with studios and their talented teams to modify games we love with storylines that educate. Games that are already part of our personal social fabric. Games we already trust.
Organizations of all types are filled with serious stories that we want our customers or citizens to understand and appreciate, ranging from our work for the environment to the importance of equal rights for all citizens to how our products help society.
Governments and non-governmental organizations want us to understand the value of our freedoms. And we all share those moments where topics, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, bring us all together.
We can now introduce new concepts, characters and messages that fit with the storyline of the game, itself.
Examples could be.
- The COVID-19 pathogen is moving worldwide and we are on a mission to find the cure and help the world work together more effectively, but we only have 24 hours.
- We have been given one mission – to save the environment and prevent the negative impact of climate change.
- We are protecting major brands from counterfeiters, so we have to learn how they work online and then stop them.
In each case, imagine scenarios where the video game player is dealing with the issues and saving the world. Imagine scenarios where teams are formed worldwide to fight against evil forces or negative outcomes for our world.
If we utilize the most popular games and retain the game mechanics, a modified narrative can educate and entertain.
In each scenario, we can make the scenarios as real as they deserve to be. They can include organizations or brands or even people. Our virtual reality should align with our actual reality.
The list is as long as our creativity. The question then is how do we do this.
Let’s meet the citizens of our world where they already spend their time.
Our team is beginning with games that are PC-based and will then move to mobile-based games. We can take any game, modify it and introduce it.
The important half of this equation are our partners, who have the vision to create the best narrative, understand the community they want to reach and are ready to provide the resources necessary for success.
There can be a variety of game-mods.
- A full-scale popular game can be modified for a topic of choice.
- A series of scenes can be created via modification.
- Or a series of short-video apps.
- Or a series of posts for social media channels.
- Or an internal modification for your employees and their families.
What matters is that we can adjust the style of content to the approach you want to take to introduce a game or a series of gaming content to the audience(s) you want to reach. It is always a function of “who do we want to reach?”
It is also important for us to integrate the game mod, as appropriate. For example, imagine a game modification where you are playing a game to stop sexual trafficking or battle climate change.
This type of social good integration will be continually evaluated to improve the game mod experience and further tie it to the real world.
Call to arms
It is worth reflecting more on why this new form of corporate social responsibility has the ability to build, protect or improve one’s standing in our world.
We all realize the world is being inundated with false narratives deployed by those who want to destabilize it. This comes not from a bunch of kids in basements. It’s concocted by adults in conference rooms.
But we can immunize ourselves through effective education.
In Hollywood, a great script is known for directing, acting, sound design, cinematography, music, casting, costumes and visual effects.
In the world of gaming, it is a matter of sharing truth within the walls of an entertaining scenario that has already captured the best of what directors, producers and writers can create.
If we succeed, we get some of those hours back each week and greatly improve our ability to communicate what is important in our world.
Let’s meet the citizens of our world where they already spend their time.
Find out more about Games for Good via its website and email Bob or Matthew via bob@ and matt@ gamesforgood [dot] org.