Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine
The year 2017 has witnessed a growing number of terrorist attacks traumatizing communities around the world.
Paris, Brussels, Spain and the most recent attacks in London, in addition to isolated incidents in different areas, have raised the threat level globally to its highest.
Looking back at the worst terror attacks in Europe during 2017, the Sept. 15, Parsons Green tube train bombing in London, was classified as the fifth “terrorist” attack in the U.K. this year.
This is in addition to some of the most severe attacks such as Finsbury Park on June 19, London Bridge on June 3, Manchester on May 22, Paris on April 20, Stockholm on April 7, Westminster Bridge London on March 22, and the Louvre on Feb. 3.
Today is the last day in the countdown to the International Day of Peace.
Tomorrow, Sept. 21 is more than another peace day. It is not about statements; it is about how to turn this day into a day of action with more doors and minds opened to peace.
The theme of this year’s Peace Day is “Together for Peace: Respect, safety and dignity for all,” highlighting the concept of “togetherness” not only by laying down weapons but also by building bridges among communities.
Peace is not something we wish for; it is something we do, something we must promote, spread, achieve and bring to everyone. It is a day to ask: How to spread the message? How to build a culture of peace in our homes, schools and communities? How are we bringing young people to International Peace Day? Are we working in the right direction to promote peace?
As reported by CNN, the “18-year-old gunman who killed nine people in Munich, Germany, was a fan of first-person shooter video games.” This led many to worry that violent video games might negatively affect young people, leading to violent acts.
Should this get us more interested in studying video games and their impacts on society? A January report by Colin Campbell focuses on digital games that support peace education and conflict resolution, build understanding and foster empathy instead of violence. The report states that “for lots of gamers, the power of the medium is its ability to place us in the shoes of other people, making tough choices that we’d otherwise never need to contemplate.”
As Search For Common Ground, an organization focusing on the role of youth in conflict transformation dynamics, points out, violent video games cannot be blamed for all the violence around the world; however, armed groups and militaries are utilizing such games to recruit and train fighters.
The American Psychological Association, summarizing the results of more than 400 studies, revealed a policy statement indicating a link “between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and moral engagement.” This reflects a direct relation between exposure to violent media, hostile behavior and beliefs and angry feelings.
SFCG notes that worldwide more than half a billion people play video games for at least an hour a day; that there are 183 million players in the United States alone; that the number of hours spent by youth playing video games reaches up to 10,000 hours by the age of 21; that as documented by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, more than half of the games rated contain violence and out of which 90 percent are unsuitable for younger generations. This percentage rises to reach 97 among ages 12 to 17.
Combat, guns, wars, criminals and chaos are the main themes. Gamers kill beasts, monsters and unfortunately humans, and it seems that the more the video game utilizes a variety of weapons, the more popular it is.
This year, World Peace Day is expected to reach 2.2 billion people. However, peace day should not be the only time for peace. The main challenge is to reach out to those people every day in the year. The first Peace Day was established in 1981 by the U.N. General Assembly, which two decades later in 2001 anonymously voted to designate it as a day “of nonviolence and cease-fire.” Almost another two decades has passed. Did the virtue brought by this day develop into a culture of peace? Are we able to cultivate peace in the minds of young people?
SFCG asks how it is possible to change the tastes of an audience that favors violent video games by presenting views and lectures about conflict resolution as previously, when traditional peace-building activities don’t seem to be appealing anymore.
Research by SFCG has showed that “the situation in Lebanon is no different from the above picture, with 95 percent of the youth currently playing video games.”
It is correct that those who produce educational games are obsessed with the message they want to pass on, forgetting the essence of gaming, which is “fun,” thus the whole purpose of playing a video game is missed.
SFCG suggests it is time to think about packaging messages in a fun video game as an ideal tool for creating positive social change amongst the new generation. This entails reaching out to everyone, and being smart enough to convey a message in a fun and entertaining way.
Gamification might be unfamiliar to many; however, it is what we really need.
It is bringing the fun element found in games to real-world activities. In other words, developing a more “human focused design” rather than a “function focused design.”
This is what we need to learn from games to master motivation and engagement.
Peace is possible if we invest in youth as agents of change, utilizing every tool to promote sustainable peace in our homes, schools and communities.
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 20, 2017, on page 3.