How the World's Riots Inspired a Video Game

Are real-world riots the right subject matter for a video game? Is it even possible to address such subject matter in a game with the gravity it deserves?

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Six months ago, ex-Valve editor and cinematographer Leonard Menchiari took part in his first protest in northern Italy's Susa Valley. The protest was part of a decade-long campaign aimed at preventing the construction of a high-speed railway line through what many consider to be an area of natural beauty.

"I was occupying the A32 Chianocco highway, near Turin, with several hundred people", says Menchiari. "After a few days of occupying the highway, blocking the path of the military that is currently protecting this huge project, we realized that the police were coming. A helicopter was above us the whole time, rocks were banging on the sides of the road, and hundreds of policemen marched towards us and violently separated us into different sections".

"After pushing us all together, we were facing the police the whole time; I was in the first line pressed against a policeman's shield. We started talking to them. We saw in the policemen's eyes that they weren't happy to be there. I was wondering what would happen once the leader would order them to charge against a whole crowd of peaceful people with their hands up”. Menchairi soon got his answer as the front line was moved to the back and replaced by a fresh wave of police, free of the rapport some protesters had managed to build with their would-be adversaries.

"I realized that also this was perfectly calculated," Menchiari says. "Immediately after they gave the order to beat us up as hard as they could, I couldn't breathe. Then I was thrown to the side and rolled down the cliff being pushed by the water jets that the police truck had. Shortly after, I found myself running with a bunch of people in complete darkness in the middle of an open field, away from the scene, while police were shooting CS smoke grenades directly at us, trying to hit us rather than just intoxicate us. Some grenades were shot in people's homes, others ended up seriously injuring people”.

"Police were shooting CS smoke grenades directly at us, trying to hit us rather than just intoxicate us."

"The battle didn't stop for a while," Menchiari continues. "The police kept following us and beating up whoever was in their way. They chased everyone in the town involving even people who had absolutely nothing to do with [the protest]. We tried to stay calm as much as we could so that nobody would get killed if they tripped and fell on the ground under people's feet, but the police were fast, and those left behind would get heavily beat up and arrested. It was a pretty tough situation.”

Tough is certainly one way to describe the situation. Scary might be another. But as an experience, it's one that Menchiari keeps to heart, and one that he believes should be shared. And so, inspired by his experience, the commitment of the protesters around him, and images of social unrest across the globe, Menchiari set out to create a video game that would educate the world.

The result is RIOT, an RTS game that, in the words of game designer Mattia Traverso and programmer Ugur Ister, will try to allow the player to experience “what being in such events means and how it feels".

Of course, much of the social unrest that has inspired RIOT is a result of the economic turmoil sweeping the globe--not an ideal climate for the small Europe-based team to get funding for a video game. But, as is so often the case these days, crowd funding provided the answer. At the time of writing, the IndieGoGo campaign for RIOT stands at roughly double the original $15,000 target.

The crowd-sourced cash will not only be used to fund development and testing of the game, but will also allow the developers to do something far more interesting: to document and actively take part in social unrest in Italy, Egypt, Greece and other places around the world.

Menchiari will shortly be on his way to Egypt, where there are reports of a protester being killed in Cairo. Riots erupted in response to an Egyptian court upholding the death sentences of 21 individuals for their role in a football riot. Enraged supporters of the accused took to the streets, burning buildings and fighting with police, during which the protester was killed. This comes a month after scores of protesters were injured in clashes with police across the country as Egyptians took to the streets for the "Friday of dignity" to protest President Morsi's failure to uphold the principles of the 2011 revolution.

It's hardly the sort of environment you'd go out of your way to be in, but for Traverso and Ister--the team helping to build on Menchiari's vision for RIOT--it's all part of making a game that communicates the experience of a riot to the player: "How can we claim to do this if we don’t feel it on our skin first?" Traverso asks rhetorically. “We are aware of the possible dangers of joining such events, but that is part of what we accepted starting this project. We want the game to play as if the user was in the middle of the crowd, and so we have to experience that."

Traverso and Ister believe that video games represent the perfect medium for dealing with the type of social unrest that they want to explore. “We chose the game medium because its interactive component enables us to use the suspension of disbelief of the user as never before, and actually feel the riot. We believe that videogames, being interactive art, are the ultimate tool for actually living problems, rather than just reading about them, or watching them from a distance."

It’s hard not to admire the team's commitment to the game and it’s clear from talking to them that they are passionate about the subject matter. Making a meaningful game that provokes specific emotions is important to Traverso and Ister. "With the multiple political and social issues growing stronger and stronger in the last couple of years, and with most people having to worry every month about the rent or their family, the general discontent keeps growing. It is an ideal time for a game like this, focusing on a single, incredible, actual issue.”

"We believe that videogames, being interactive art, are the ultimate tool for actually living problems, rather than just reading about them."

And when they say "actual", they mean actual: every riot in the game will be based on a real world event. In that sense, RIOT is both a game, and a type of playable documentary. And while the developers are reluctant to detail the game's narrative at such an early stage in its development, they do confirm that there will be some kind of framing of the historical and political context of the riots that take place in the game.

"What we can tell you is that the game is that it will be divided in the campaign. Each section will be about a specific historical/spatial context, which is again divided into sub-levels that follow a narrative order. Single events will be also featured in bonus levels, or eventual future updates."

This places the game within something of a burgeoning genre: the "current affairs" or "news" game. That includes the likes of Unmanned--a browser-based game in which you live a day in the life of a US drone pilot--and the titles being produced by Game the News, such as their strategy title based on the recent Syrian conflict, Endgame: Syria, and environmental tower defence game, Climate Defence.

But as the controversy surrounding the release of the aforementioned Endgame: Syria highlights--Apple initially refused to sell the game via its iOS store due to its political content--there’s often something troubling about transforming events in which real people have suffered into something with which we can play. The line between raising awareness about what is going on in the world and exploiting those events for entertainment is a fine one. Of course, every medium faces this problem to some degree, but it seems particularly pronounced for a medium that asks its audience to actively participate.

But speaking to Traverso and Istar, you get the impression that their team most certainly isn't trying to exploit current events in making RIOT. Nevertheless, it's an issue the duo is aware of.

"That's a risk of course, but also a chance. We will do everything we can to respect the matter we are treating with care, and to show the non-fun side of riots through the fun of the game. One side will fight for respect and to share awareness, the other one for money. The differences in how the two factions are controlled depend exactly on the motivations behind them, on the different struggle for freedom, security, clout, power and money, and on the historical context.”

The motivations of the two factions are not necessarily intended to reflect a binary good versus evil, however. "There's often more than one side or truth to a story and that is why we want to allow the player to take control of both sides and show their different motivations and the nuances between black and white," Ister continues. "We want to capture the emotions of each side, and show them with no bias involved."

Aiming to present the game’s events to the player as neutrally as possible makes sense, given that there's evidently something of a journalistic intention to RIOT. But it's easy to imagine that becoming difficult when dealing with, for example, the 2012 democratic uprisings in Egypt. There, people were protesting against Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi after he granted himself unlimited powers to "protect" the nation. Is this not a case where trying to tread the line between allowing both sides to be heard is overly problematic?

"We want to capture the emotions of each side, and show them with no bias involved."

"We personally think that it can also be something positive, maybe a little cathartic, to give a person the opportunity to do something they could possibly regret or dislike," Ister responds. "There is good in bad, and certainly there is interest in feeling what bad is like. Once again, good and bad are terms that should not exist in the game, since we just want to offer an objective look on the matter by giving the player the full ability to judge the facts.”

Whether or not RIOT can effectively balance enjoyable RTS mechanics while simultaneously functioning as an effective way of informing players about real-world conflicts remains to be seen. Given the response to the IndieGoGo campaign, though, there's clearly an appetite for a game that deals with serious, real-world issues. RIOT is making a bold attempt to tapp into this emerging genre in a way few games are. Here's hoping we see more experiences like it in the future.

RIOT will be released on iOS, Android, PC and Mac.

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Discussion

211 comments
Jake518
Jake518

There is a difference between peacefully protesting and rioting. Peacefully protesting should be encouraged but rioting is not acceptable. It's not fair to others by damaging property or worse, putting the lives of those not involved in danger. Rioting doesn't even need a message. Remember the Vancouver riots? Just a bunch of fans being sore losers when their team lost.

unclepaulie83
unclepaulie83

Riots ???? would be more interesting if they were not full of lazy people , they are just "strikes" on wheels 

NTM23
NTM23

I remember when I was little, I went to an auditorium for a school field trip, I don't remember what it was called, but it was on the same street and the day before the 1999 WTO protests here in Seattle.

asddoly
asddoly

ارحل ارحل ارحل

kratospete
kratospete

Paul Walker..the movie actor? lol

DETfaninATL
DETfaninATL

"How the World's Riots Inspired a Video Game"  OR : "How Global Degenerates and Their Misbehavior Inspired People To Capitalize On It For Dollars and Fun"

hussin005
hussin005

FUCK YOU WHO EVER MAKING THIS GAME ... this is not something you can play bec i fucking lived it and ive lost friends 

splinter10
splinter10

Interesting. Though I don't really care to much for all the talk of informing me about what the riots mean, and the issues going on in the world. I already know must of it, and I have other mediums to educate myself on the subject. I'd rather just here more about the gameplay, as it looks interesting.

Skrillbak
Skrillbak

The "emotional" premise of the game seems too difficult to capture. Despite our political views & differences, the gamer isn't connected to either side of the conflict because this is a simulator. Making a strategy game is one thing but trying to sell it based on the experiences of one man just seems to not translate for me. If the game play is fun then that's one thing but I can't fathom someone playing this game & being emotionally touched unless you've been on either side of a riot like this.

never-named
never-named

Something tells me we have another 'Hotline Miami' in our hands here!

Shatilov
Shatilov

I WANT THIS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thunderstarter
Thunderstarter

Honestly, the game just sounds like it could be fun to play. I don't really care about the message. The concept is cool. I wonder how the mob would win? 

jlwood830
jlwood830

Liberal my ass.  Stupid game.  Stupid story.

Voidkom
Voidkom

@Jake518  You haven't been in many protests, haven't you? Do you know what happens to peaceful protests? They get dispersed and ignored.

Name one movement that reached its goals. because of a peaceful protest rather than the use of violent or nonviolent attacks/sabotage/boycots or the threat thereof. I'll spare you the effort: Not a single movement has accomplished its goals by peaceful protesting.

mostafa777
mostafa777

@asddoly 

مين اللى يرحل يا بنى هى بقت موضة و لا ايه ... ما ترحمونا بقة 

mescovic
mescovic

@Venatorcruiser  protesters you mean radical Wahhabi fundamentalist used a proxy weapon to overtake a secular government that protects the rights of women, Christians and jews.

rgdfglfhgkh
rgdfglfhgkh

@hussin005 i agree with u but this is not the first time they made a game about something like it besides its better to use ur energy to kill some1 in a game rather than in real life b/c u hate em 

anyway sorry for ur lose

0rr3n1
0rr3n1

@hussin005 and war games situated in places where hundreds of people have died is any better? I am sorry for your loss, but i feel talking about it like that is a bit too personal and is not representing the opinion of the whole.

Voidkom
Voidkom

@Skrillbak Agreed, it doesn't put you in the shoes of the protester whose world is gone to shit and gets increasingly angry or gets beaten and even tortured by police. Nor does it put you in the shoes of the police officer who has been completely desensitized to violence and has given up all morals just to do a job.

Voidkom
Voidkom

@Lord_OfThe_SithBeing anti-capitalist means I can't wear clothes, right? Your feeble understanding of economic theories and how the world works is amusing at best.

KadeStorm
KadeStorm

@Lord_OfThe_Sith Next time you're ripping off talking points from your favourite, selectively biased Libertarian blog, please bother to reference accordingly. There's definitely a lot of hypocrisy in the idea of presenting the minions that protect citizens as 'baddies'. On the other hand, this whole, "but, but. . . they're pampered brats," nonsense is just as hypocritical and there's nothing wrong with the idea of taking the fallouts of crony behaviour to task. How about presenting PMCs of the kind that have no obligation to social justice but only to protect the already well-protected? Black and white/either-or logical fallacy remains black and white.

Dan11223344
Dan11223344

@reter121 How does a riot in Italy translate to "Jewish propaganda". You sir, are a moron.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

@Suikogaiden And what you do when you get constantly ignored if you got the peaceful way, while people loose their homes and die from starvation?

You obviously talk without having any idea, or you would not dare to throw such a statement...

Dan11223344
Dan11223344

@Suikogaiden Not that i agree with either side here, but where does it say they assaulted an officer? And even if the protesters are breaking the law they where still met with amuch higher level of violence than was needed, especially if the part about attacking people not involved in the protest is true. Police need to know restraint since its their duty to uphold the law, which means setting an example too.

obsequies
obsequies

@Suikogaiden didn't you just get defeated down there? \/ ohhhh...I get it, you didn't like that you were wrong so you tried to start all over again, very smart. You could call yourself one of those "smart" people

Pukshd
Pukshd

@Suikogaiden agree, peaceful protest, and then they steal, kill, rape...

feestay
feestay

@Suikogaiden Then the people have the right to defend themselves with sticks, stones, and molotov cocktails. Its civil disobedience, therefore it's ilegal anyways. 

made_u_look
made_u_look

@Voidkom Martin Luther King ring a bell? Get educated then maybe you won't be a moron and defend riots. Like the L.A. riots which served no purpose except property damage and loss of human life.

asddoly
asddoly

@mostafa777@asddoly انت عبيط و لا شكلك كده اللعبة دي بتتكلم عن ايه يا مغفل 

Lord_OfThe_Sith
Lord_OfThe_Sith

@KadeStorm @Lord_OfThe_Sith First off you are an idiot.  I am not a Lib of any kind and I do not read Lib websites/blogs.  Before you accuse someone of doing something perhaps you should get to know them a little first.  Were you at "Occupy" anything.  I saw Occupy NY first hand as I was there on business.  I saw first hand what I described.  I took minor intellectual license as I think the little shit said BMW not Porsche.  Are there poor people in this country? Of course.  Are there people who are not fully participating in society?  Yes.  Are there people who feel minimized by our system?  Absolutely!  Where these the majority of occutards?  NOT even close.  P.S. Return to your parents basement from which you came and trouble us no more. 

made_u_look
made_u_look

@Voidkom @made_u_look And to add to your thought process, some protests aren't worth crap. Because society has to deem whether its worth the change. For example PETA they protest just about everything most of it is ludicrous. Now racial equality of social injustice was done with peaceful means a MAJORITY of time were there riots yea. But what got through were the peaceful debates and speeches. For woman s rights and African American rights. There wasn't looting or rioting for woman's rights. 

made_u_look
made_u_look

@Voidkom @made_u_look Learning about someones struggles and achievements through peaceful protest, yes it takes someone with the mental capacity to see faults in a democratic government. Rioting in a violent nature with radical intent creates more animosity than a peaceful conclusion. You asked for one movement, I gave you one. Now your saying naming one isn't a enough? How about Gandhi, Tank man? You act like a violent child and start destroying someones place of work or home, guess what your not helping your cause your just pissing off sympathizers. But I guess radicals like yourself careless that's why you never get anywhere. 

Voidkom
Voidkom

@made_u_look @Voidkom I have to get educated? You think that the African-American Civil Rights Movement was succesful because of Martin Luther king? What an extremely simplistic view you have...

I'm sure there was also no riots back then, right? You think there was no sabotage or boycots back then? Here's a hint: Protests are worth shit.

mostafa777
mostafa777

@asddoly @mostafa777 

و ليه الشتيمة يا عرص انت هو ليه اشعب ده بقة قليل الادب و مليان اشكال وسخة 

Lord_OfThe_Sith
Lord_OfThe_Sith

@karasu251 @Lord_OfThe_Sith @KadeStorm I love how people like you try to put words in other peoples mouths to sway opinion and prove your nonexistent argument.  Number one not all of the "Occupy" protests were peaceful and most of them were racked with internal violence.  More than 400 people were arrested during Occupy Oakland after they attacked police throwing bricks and setting fires.  Occupy Seattle (aka Occupy the Port) saw its share of violence as well.  While Occupy NY saw it's share of violence toward police as well as internally which included at least one rape.  Please, try reading something and do a little research about what you are talking about before you open your mouth.  It stands, you are an idiot maybe it is from ingesting the glue you were speaking about.  

karasu251
karasu251

@Lord_OfThe_Sith@KadeStorm ......

You do realize the Occupy Whatever movement that you're babbling about is a 'peaceful protest', right? The complete opposite of what this game is conveying? The kind of protest that this game isn't even covering at ANY length?

I can't believe you just pinned a guy as 'an idiot' for talking back to your ridiculous points, too. Let me guess; you saw someone in line at the supermarket paying with food stamps with manicured nails, talking on their iPhone? Me too, bro! Man, that bitch gets around...

And it seems like you feel that people shouldn't protest at all because they are somehow entitled brats -- not because, you know, they're pissed and are rallying for change. I mean you can sit on your ass and judge them, if you'd like. Unless of course it's something you give a damn about, then you'd be all up in arms.

If you want a deadly protest, take your short-sightedness outside the US. Otherwise, ingest a bottle of glue and do us all a favor.

Dan11223344
Dan11223344

@Suikogaiden And also you say liberals can't win votes. Explain Obama. But i digress you 'righties' did vote for Bush which was hillarious - i mean the rest of the world got to see what happens when a nut job with the mind of a dim child ran one of the biggest super powers on the face of the planet. Baby with a rocket launcher anyone?

obsequies
obsequies

@Suikogaiden didn't you just reply? lol you are a complete moron

obsequies
obsequies

@Suikogaiden this guy is amazing, he's like some sort of internet super hero

gufberg
gufberg

@Suikogaiden When you grow a little older i hope you'll look back at interactions like this and be  embarrased over how teenage-you used to 'debate'. 

gufberg
gufberg

@obsequies @feestay @Suikogaiden I'll just point out that last time i saw Suikogaiden's posts he was calling all muslims terrorists and reffering to a TV hostess as "That MILF" ... 

Yea guys. This is the level of intelligence you're dealing with.  

feestay
feestay

@Suikogaiden You are manipulating concepts and facts into your own favor and your political thinking. Im done, think whatever you want.

obsequies
obsequies

@Suikogaiden so why are you lumping everything into marxist, liberal, cocktails? it just makes you look like you have personal issues . You do realize there were riots and protests that have nothing to do with what your relating them to and it just makes you look ridiculously psychotic and narrow minded and/or inexperienced with reality. I guess according to the way your comments are going I'm supposed to tell you to sit on a crucifix and die because nobody cares about you? okkkayy

obsequies
obsequies

@Suikogaiden look at this guy looking up stuff on Wikipedia and throwing it around in ways that don't even make sense lol he's like a troll that didn't grow up 

feestay
feestay

@Suikogaiden Wrong again. Im not a Marxist either (¿why my political thoughts are relevant in this discussion?). Im not trying to convince you or anything. Like i said before, civil disobedience implies illegal behavior, and social-self defense implies violence. It's not political propaganda. And i dont burn people or attack them freely, that's facism. We are talking about the context of rioting, and nothing else.

feestay
feestay

@Suikogaiden Don't call me liberal. Im not a capitalist and i despise right wing parties ( you dont have any real "leftists" or anything more radical in the US). 

For me, the context of social self -defense implies violence in both sides. The reasons behind that violence is the one thing that matters. It's not a moral question, it's political.