Flash-game prediction of Mideast chaos

Wow. Last summer, I wrote a piece for Slate about how people are using Flash games as a form of political commentary — using the physics of games to create elegant visual metaphors to make a political point. One of the big areas where this was happening, of course, was with war-related material.

I just happened upon a brilliant and quite mind-blowing new Iraq game, from the folks at idleworm. They’ve posed the question that the U.S. isn’t asking: What happens the attack on Iraq sets off a domino effect? What if the U.S. manages to kill Saddam Hussein — but in doing so, makes the Islamic world so angry that it we get a Mideast powderkeg?

To make this scenario a little more concrete, the idleworm folks created an interactive cartoon that shows their prediction for what the next few years look like — represented as icons moving, war-game-like, across a map of the Mideast. The result is darkly funny and massively unsettling. There’s something unspeakably creepy about the aesthetics of this thing: Part Saturday-morning cartoon, part CNN-political-map, and part role-playing-boardgame. As with many of these interactive Flash games, you laugh — but it makes you think in a way substantially different from when you read an old-school New York Times editorial.

Indeed, the idleworm games illustrates a principle that dawns on almost anyone who plays a five-hour session of Risk, Diplomacy or Dungeons and Dragons: In a complex world of negotiations and multiple interests, things rarely go as planned. Teenagers and game-players the world over, cloistered in their basements, know this. The U.S. administration, apparently, doesn’t.

(Image above taken from the idleworm site!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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