Think You Can End Colombia’s 50-year War? Reach for Your Mouse

Colombians will soon be able to sit around a virtual negotiating table as Marxist FARC rebels or the government to thrash out an end to 50 years of war in a video game mirroring complex real life talks to restore peace to the country.

“Adios a las Armas,” or “Farewell to Arms,” a finalist in a government competition in July for non-violent video games, aims to raise awareness about a peace deal being negotiated in Cuba which voters will back or reject in a referendum.

The game will be launched early next year and may be adapted for online play on social networks and mobile phones as well as being sent to schools and peace-promoting institutions in a country striving to end the long conflict.

“People think resolving the war is simpler than it is in reality … [but] negotiations take place in a complex context where each actor has many interests and responsibilities to their supporters,” the game’s inventor, Javier Corredor, a psychology professor at Universidad Nacional, told Reuters.

With parallels to the popular board game Risk, “Farewell to Arms” players represent either the government, FARC rebels, right-wing paramilitaries or civilians, and compete for territory on a map of Colombia.

They play cards and roll dice – virtually via the computer – to pursue interests on the same topics being negotiated in Cuba and gain seats in Congress, with the winner the first one to take more than half of the parliament.

Five-decade Conflict

The real talks in Havana have achieved partial deals on FARC involvement in politics, land reform and drug trafficking.

Victim compensation and reintegration of rebel fighters into society are the outstanding issues on the agenda.

Ending the conflict has eluded a dozen successive governments since the FARC formed in 1964 out of a peasant movement seeking land reform. Two previous attempts at peace talks broke down acrimoniously, the last in 2002.

Colombians re-elected President Juan Manuel Santos in June to a second four-year term on his promises to ink a historic deal at the talks, which he launched in late 2012.

Santos, who succeeded the hardline Alvaro Uribe as president, must strike a delicate balance between making  concessions to the rebels and alienating an already-skeptical electorate wary of a sell-out to a group many see as terrorists.

Uribe, who intensified attacks on the FARC during his two terms in power, thinning the rebels’ ranks and pushing them into remote jungle areas, opposes the peace talks.

Corredor first invented a paper version of the game as an educational tool when the last peace talks collapsed, perceiving that many Colombians who were critical of the process failed to grasp the complexity of the interests at stake.

He commissioned Eleven Producciones, a Bogota-based software producer, to make a demo version that won a $48,000 grant in the technology and communication ministry’s competition in July for it to be turned into a finished mass-market product.

The competition was devised by Vice Minister Maria Carolina Hoyos to expand the market for engaging but non-violent video games while boosting the local software industry.

“I think in countries where there have been victims of violence in many families, we see violent games with different eyes,” she told Reuters.

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