Getting Real About the War on Drugs via Gaming

At GametheNews.net we turn news into games. In reflecting the world around us a singer might write a song, a filmmaker produces a documentary and a journalist writes an article, as games developers we express our interest via games. Just because our form of expression is through games doesn’t mean that we take the subject any less seriously. We’ve just released our latest newsgame called NarcoGuerra which looks at the War on Drugs. It’s an apt time to highlight the issue. Recently the Organization of American States launched a groundbreaking report exploring alternatives to the war on drugs.

If you are new to newsgames, they are a type of game that explores news and current affairs. The game looks at the ongoing conflict from the perspective of the Mexican authorities trying to stamp out the drug trade within that embattled country. In the game the player must attempt to retake Mexico’s regions from cartels while also dealing with corruption within the police force itself.

If you are new to the War on Drugs here’s a summary. In our research for the game we approached Transform Drug Policy Foundation and discovered that it’s not a war we can win because its not really a war at all. That was one of the things we wanted to explore with NarcoGuerra. What games can be good at is simulating systems such as the ebb and flow of the War on Drugs. What interested me as a games designer was the dynamic of the situation which meant that success created failure; if the police are effective in stopping the supply of drugs then the street price goes up because demand is a constant. But as the price goes up so more gangs enter the market because there is more money to be made.

All we have done is place that dynamic into a game-simulation environment and allow the player to interact with it. We’ve challenged them to see if they can end this seemingly unending war.
Loads of games frame their interaction with a war/military type mode of play – we wanted to, well, play with that expectation. So we’ve created what will be a familiar framing for fellow gamers; a strategy game. To allow the gameplay a bit of leeway we also included a mode that does not have this dynamic linked up, where it is possible to win the War on Drugs. We felt it would be interesting to include a bit of the make-believe that some politicians and many others have been pushing for decades; that this is a war and that it can be won. After all, as the designer of a number of games set in fictional universes, I’m well versed in building black-and-white worlds of goodies, baddies and happily ever after. What is a newer experience for me, is to explore real world dynamics and I’d like to invite those same politicians who still think we’re in that make-believe world to join the rest of us in reality and start to explore solutions that acknowledge it never was a war and so can’t be won as such.

You can find out more about the game here. You can also find out more about the sources we used to create the game here.

About the Author

Tomas Rawlings

Tomas is Design & Production Director at Auroch Digital and its acclaimed news-gaming project GameTheNews.net which produced the global talking-point, Endgame:Syria. He is the designer of the multiple award winning Call of Cthulhu:The Wasted Land. He is also a games consultant working with major organisations such as the Wellcome Trust, helping them to develop and deliver their gaming strategy. As a games designer he produced titles from original concepts to well loved IPs such as Star Wars and The Great Escape to the critically and commercially successful Savage Moon series for Playstation. He also blogs at agreatbecoming.com, was a co-founder of the non-profit Bristol Games Hub and also named in Bristol’s Arts & Culture Power List.

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