On Blood Diamonds and what the gaming industry can do about it

A while back, I saw a video regarding blood-diamonds, which main conclusion is that blood-diamonds cannot be traced and diamonds cannot be certified to be conflict-free. It occurred to me to create an educational game and expose the developing-world biosphere in which blood diamond and other forms of atrocities can thrive.

With my usual limited warranty warning, I should confess it’s been ages since I played a computer game or an real-time-strategy (RTS) game and I’ve actually never played a Massively multiplayer online game (AKA MMPOG). But that never stopped me from yammering.

I would like to suggest a game that caught my interest. It sounded like something that should be out there so I checked the list of top RTS games of all times and they all classified as either historical, fantasy (i.e. orcs and elves) or futuristic or alternate-universe (honorary mention to World in Conflict). So nothing really fell close to my “modern-day” category. I call it “Warlords: think you can do better?”.

Our game takes places in a developing country and like any RTS, the goals are to gather resources, build an army and vanquish the enemy. The aim of the game however is to provide a realistic portrayal of a warlord’s conflicts and challenging the ability to keep morals and principles in a harsh environment.

In the single player’s first campaign, the player leads a raid-party. Starting off with a group of five foot-soldiers, the first mission is to steal a pick-up truck. The following missions are to expand the army by recruiting soldiers by either sheer volunteerism or with a little encouragement of kidnapping or threatening to burn entire villages if they don’t surrender their juveniles.

Unlike most RTS in which the player has different unique units, in this game, the player gathers an army of people, weaponize by whatever means possible and train them accordingly. This means that anyone can throw a grande if s/he has one, but only an experienced soldier can actually aim, and not kill himself accidentally. Also in this game, a soldier who loose limbs can still fight but they’ll never get back to their full potential. It’ll be up to their warlord to decide whether to leave them to die in the battlefield or carry them to health. Very quickly the player will realize that conscious is an expensive obligation.

The first campaign ends with the successful occupation of a mine, with a small help of a foreign agent, who hopes to bargain a better deal with the rising warlord, rather than the previous mine owner. So The second campaign is all about expanding the mining enterprise which requires, once more, recruiting people, one way or the other, to come and work for the warlord. The player will quickly learn that brute force is one way to do business, and another is padding the pockets of certain interests – such as law-officials or religious-leaders. On the other hand, he might be handed out some interesting offers (and later demands) from foreign business-men that happen to cross her/his path.

I’m not denying the possibly of a benevolent warlord who would try to protect her/his people from the cruelty of the other stakeholders, but s/he’ll quickly find her/himself outgunned and outnumbered as albeit it is possible to walk the paths of righteousness, it is really darn hard.

In the final campaign the warlord’s goal is the conquer the entire country, springing from his successful mining business to the top of food chain, mostly by eliminating anything that stands in her/his path.

The units of the game are mostly foot-soldiers with different weapons – from clubs, machetes, bow and arrows to guns, machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers and flame-throwers. There is also a small assortments of transportations units: motorcycles, pick-up trucks and small planes. In the final campaign, as the warlord fights against the country’s army – tanks, choppers and airplanes also come into play. However, unlike any other RTS game in which the player build a vehicle factory, this game is a bit more realistic in which the user can only order online or simply steal existing units. People, ammunition and vehicles are all limited.

Communication towers plays an essential role in the game as without them the user won’t be able to see enemy units on the map beyond her/his own unit range of view. Radio communications will allow her/him to send off hi AI units to remote missions, trusting them to manage on their own, as s/he won’t be able to get a clear status once they engage in battle.

Another important dimension of the game is the AI-unit’s loyalty, as at any moment unit might desert or turn treacherous if it believes the act will benefit it. But there’s no bar to indicate a unit’s loyalty level, the warlord must trust her/his own instincts for that. There are, however, satisfaction-polls to indicate the general feeling of an area or a squadron. It is the warlord’s responsibility to keep his units in check.

In the multiplayer game the player can band together with other players to create stronger coalitions, but can also tax them for protection money and all sorts of agreements that are not exactly well-balanced but more like real-life relationships between different stakeholders. Army bases exists in the multiplayer game and whoever gets to occupy them benefits from their arsenal (until it runs out of course).

Drawing back to the original point, I hope that the game will enrich the players’ knowledge about the developing countries’ state and how the developed world influences them by supporting such warlords and alike. My 2cents tip for anyone who wants to avoid having blood (diamonds) on their hands is simply stop supporting the diamond industry in general as stop believing that a little shiny rock on a ring means anything. but that’s just me.

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