The App Store is increasingly riddled with controversy, and the latest to jump out of the bloodied bag is one that reveals a censorship practice that most will probably not have been aware of before. Auroch Digital submitted their strategy title, Endgame: Syria, to the App Store for review, but were dismayed to find out that it was rejected based on Apples forbidding of any software that “solely target[s] a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity”. That’s a bit of a problem for Auroch Digital as they Game The News, which basically means that they take real issues as covered by the global media and weave them into games so as to teach people about them via gameplay. It’s the same problem that Owlchemy Labs ran into when their politically charged game, Smuggle Truck, was rejected by Apple back in 2011. Their way around it was to re-decorate the game, turning immigrants into cuddly toys, and in the process they renamed it Snuggle Truck.After the game had been in Apple’s hands for two weeks during the submission process, Auroch were suspicious of why it was taking so long to get an answer, and so they presumed that the reason for that was the game’s concern with present day politics. The lead developer behind Endgame: Syria, Tomas Rawlings, responded to the rejection by saying the “decision is a shame…as it makes it hard to talk about the real world.” Indeed, this method of censorship in games has come up before, but less so with politics. Stuart Dredge over on The Guardian website made a point about this from the view that Apple took on the issue that I happen to disagree with. He says that the other side of the story is “games are games, not journalism”, which has that nasty implication that games are only for fun and shouldn’t discuss real life topics. Of course, that’s not necessarily Stuart’s view, but is the opposing side of those who, like myself, would like to see games have no boundaries and branch into any topic without discretion.
Tomas continues to make points for the case, that being that games that explore topics like these and, indeed, make up the library at Game The News, can act as good educational tools that engage the player in a more interesting way than standard news reporting:
“Our aim is to use games as a format to bring news to a new audience and submission processes such as this do make it a lot harder for us. I get that Apple want to make sure really offensive titles don’t pass into their store, but ours is far from that. In fact the response to the game has been broadly positive with much of the mainstream media picking up on the story.”
It’s grating to the voices and creativity of developers that they have to abide by Apple’s verdict as to whether their game can be published on their App Store. Obviously it’s necessary to ensure that games submitted are completely unplayable or something inexplicably offensive, but in this case, and Snuggle Truck’s, it seems more of a condemning due to the company’s doctrine, as it attempts to avoid associating itself with current affairs whereas developers might want to voice something or educate players about them. It’s understandable, of course, but it would be great to have this policy removed, though that is very unlikely to happen.
Auroch say that they want to resubmit the game to the App Store, but that will mean having to make changes, but can enough alterations really be made to a game that is based entirely on a recent real-life conflict without losing its purpose? Though Endgame: Syria won’t be coming to iOS devices for now, it is available for free on Google Play for Android devices, and you can play it in your browser on the game’s official page. As you can see by looking through the sources that supplied the details on the conflict present in Endgame: Syria, the game is one of strategy that has you playing on the side of rebels in the civil war in Syria. It’s a game of choices, burdening you with an interest in winning a convoluted war.
“Will you choose to accept peace at any cost? What if the war goes badly and the only options left mean more extreme actions; would you agree to follow this path? Can you win the war and the peace that follows?”
There are two phases that you’ll be making these choices throughout with the intention of getting support from as many sources as possible. Everything has consequences and many of them will occur beyond your reach, as is the case with the reality. First up is the political phase, during which you’ll choose from different cards to seek support from foreign allies or rally troops in neighbouring regions. This stage is mostly preamble, however, as the more pressing gameplay comes in during the conflict phase, where you’ll see how your previous choices affect your options here. Now in your hands is a numbers game filtered across the following headings: Attack, Resilience, Type, Fallout, Civilian Casualties, Support. Every action you make here will have a big impact on each of these topics and your endgame will take into account everything you do. Ultimately, though, things may be out of your control as you learn the power of the world’s media to swing interest in and out of your favor. It’s a powerful message that emerges in reality. Replaying does have different outcomes but the results contain similar teachings about how politics work.