Henk Rogers Looks to Social Games for World Peace

January 22, 2013 2:26 pm Last Updated: January 22, 2013 2:26 pm

When video games are mentioned in public speech, it’s usually in the context of violent games inspiring violent acts—of minds twisted through pixelated gore in sandbox worlds where rules of the real world no longer apply. Yet there is another side to this debate, not about violence and online bullying, but rather about how non-violent video games may be the only field in today’s electric world where people of all races, ages, and beliefs can toss aside their differences and play.

Henk Rogers, founder of Blue Planet Software and who is known for helping “Tetris” creator Alexey Pajitnov escape the Soviet Union, sets lofty goals for himself. These include ending human reliance on fossil fuels—being accomplished by his Blue Planet Foundation in Hawaii—funding space travel to bring humans to new worlds, and one goal that has not yet begun: to foster world peace through a social game.

Could a game be created where bullying and competitiveness are nowhere to be found? Could a game help racist people see beyond their differences? Or, for that matter, could a game resolve a global conflict? Rogers believes it’s possible.

Rogers is still working out the core mechanics, but said it “should make people understand that people on the other side of a conflict, or a language barrier, or a religious barrier, are in fact people just like them.”

“I believe this is an opportunity for you to play games with other people—games where the other person is cooperating with you,and you and the other person are trying to solve something,” said Rogers.

To create the game, violence would be the first to go—something Rogers regards as the result of a testosterone imbalance that makes people feel the need to prove themselves. “I think that testosterone imbalance makes young people play violent games—real ones and fake ones,” he said.

“But there are other types of games people play that have nothing to do with the hormone imbalance that they play at other times of their lives,” he said. “’Tetris’ falls into that category.”

Language and the idea of a winner and loser would also need to be removed, which will solve issues of competitiveness and bullying—factors that tend to lead into one-another by people rubbing in their victories.

“It’s a negative thing. There’s nothing positive in that,” Rogers said. “You could say it doesn’t do anything, but I think it does leave a tiny scar every time you do that—every time you beat somebody. Especially if you do it to little kids, it dooms them to a life of being like that too. They become competitive and they can’t stand being in a situation of being called a loser.”

On the side of what to include, Rogers is looking into factors that bring people together, and which factors could help people improve as individuals.

Eliminating isolation is the main thing he’d like to accomplish. This relates to his understanding of what causes violence.

While Rogers says he’s unsure about a connection between video games and violence in the broader sense, “I think there is probably a connection between isolation and violence—having a backlash against a society that has treated you wrongly somehow, and as a result you’re in a corner by yourself. To me, that’s when you start to think up strange solutions or strange things. You don’t have anyone to talk to.”

He said problems usually arise in “very isolated individuals.”

One way to eliminate isolation, he says, is by introducing players to one-another, letting them play together, “and if you like that person then you could say ‘I like that person,’ and the system would bring that person back at some point in the future, and you could sort of establish an online relationship.”

Overall, the concept is simple. “Society, even though we are pushing seven or eight billion people in the world, we’re a society that isolates people, and I think that’s kind of creepy,” Rogers said. “Let’s just put the isolated people together and let them be friends. Technology exists to do that, but somehow, technologically we haven’t done that.”

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