Playing ‘President’

Kids have been playing a civics video game called Win the White House, reports Shumita Basu for WYNC. The free, online game was developed by iCivics, which was founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

The game, which lets students run their own presidential campaign, was played 2.2 million times in the month of October alone.

What’s next from iCivics? Executive Command lets kids (and perhaps some adults) simulate what to do with the presidency once it’s won.

Tribal folklore gets its own video game

Never Alone, a new video game by E-Line Media, is based on Native Alaskans’ tribal folklore. Developers worked with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

Reviews are strong, reports NPR.

Cuban kids get pro-tax videogame

Cuba’s children can look forward to a new video game on the joy of paying taxes, reports Reuters.

Dubbed “Tributin,” or “Little Tax,” by its creators at the Superior Pedagogic Institute . . .  the game is meant to support economic reforms by Fidel Castro’s brother, President Raul Castro, who is expanding Cuba’s tiny private sector. The game is expected to roll out in October.

Cuba’s new entrepreneurs are expected to pay between 25 and 50 percent in taxes, which the cash-strapped government will use to keep financing generous social programs.

. . . “Tributin” would show children how the money they spend when they buy candy puts in motion mechanisms that benefit their communities in the form of school improvements.

Raul Castro is laying off government workers and hopes the private sector will provide jobs. People who start businesses must get a self-employment license and then pay income tax, sales tax and employment tax on workers they hire. Fun for the whole family!

Playing Taliban

Video gamers can play at being Taliban fighters killing U.S. soldiers in an Electronic Arts game , “Medal of Honor,” scheduled for release in October. Someone has to play the bad guy, EA says. Turning an ongoing war into a game is wrong, Karen Meredith tells the San Jose Mercury News. Her son, Army Lt. Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq in 2004.

 “How can they say it’s OK for someone to play the Taliban? You’ll have people sitting at home, drinking beer, shooting at American soldiers, maybe missing, then starting over. Well, Ken didn’t have a chance to start over.”

There’s a waiting list for the game, which is said to feature “realistic” effects.  The controversy is good publicity, analysts say.

With an Afghanistan backdrop and the option to play good guy or bad, gamers like Fernando Angeles can’t wait to get their hands on the game. “It’s fun killing people,” said the itchy-fingered 13-year-old standing outside a San Jose GameStop store. “I get to roam around and feel like soldiers feel. I’ve played the bad guys before, but this will be even better because it’s based on the real thing. You don’t want to hurt other Americans, but you’ve got to win the game.”

Other multiplayer games let players take the role of a Nazi or some other bad guy trying to kill the good guys. (Are there video games based on the Vietnam War?) But the Taliban aren’t history or fantasy. They’re doing their best to kill real Americans. 

Celeste Zappala, a Philadelphia woman who lost her son in Baghdad in 2004, said, “One of the saddest things about this is the terrible disconnect between the horrible reality of these wars and the Americans back home in their bedrooms playing games like this. Morally and ethically, the game’s maker should do the right thing and pull it.”

In a letter to Electronic Arts, Meredith “stopped short of asking EA to pull the game, saying she recognizes the First Amendment right of its creators to create whatever they like,” the Mercury News reports. Meredith wrote:  

“Anyone who has gone to war will tell you that WAR IS NOT A GAME,” she wrote. “If you still believe that, I invite you to join me at my son’s headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60 where more than 800 of our country’s finest who were killed in Iraq & Afghanistan are laid for eternity.”

And, she wrote, “eternity is a long time, no restarts, no do-overs.”

Will Medal of Honor desensitize young players to the realities of war? Or just let them express their natural agression?

It reminds me of the controversy over the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. Clearly, EA has a right to turn the war in Afghanistan into a game.  But should they?