Friday, June 24, 2011

Gaming Knowledge About Multinationals: Teaching Global Fast Foods

For some time now, traditional education has appeared to become increasingly antiquated as a method for producing and conveying knowledge.  Though the conventional institutions of education remain important, at least as a method of sorting people into appropriate social and economic classes, real knowledge is increasingly conveyed through the methods people use to amuse themselves.   

 (McDonald's Videogame by Molleindustria, The Game)

One of the primary methods of amusement are video games. Since the middle of the first decade of the 20th century, some have noticed the increasing use of video games as a method for educating "players," using games to socialize people and to inculcate players with the normative values that underlie the operations of a game.  For example, "To explore how the United States can harness the powerful features of digital games for learning, the Federation of American Scientists, the Entertainment Software Association, and the National Science Foundation convened a National Summit on Educational Games, on October 25, 2005 in Washington, DC. The Summit brought together nearly 100 experts to discuss ways to accelerate the development, commercialization, and deployment of new generation games for learning."  The Education Arcade "explores games that promote learning through authentic and engaging play. TEA's research and development projects focus both on the learning that naturally occurs in popular commercial games, and on the design of games that more vigorously address the educational needs of players." The Education Arcade. The Education Arcade has made two papers available for download:   Moving Learning Games Forward and Using the Technology of Today in the Classroom Today.

The military has been sensitive to the uses of gaming as a means of training.  Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes, Training Marines with Video Games, Marine Corps News Service, March 10, 2005. Technology sensitive media has also noted the extent of this phenomenon.  It is also aware that gaming has the potential to free the close connection between education and schools, especially for young people.
Big corporations beware: Some video game developers are on a mission to skewer your reputation.

For several years, hard-core game players have complained that big consumer brands are increasingly being featured in their virtual game worlds. Even worse, they say, are "advergames," video games developed by companies to promote products.
Now a new genre of games is flipping that promotion on its head. Known as "anti-advergames," the new titles satirize big companies and question corporate polices ranging from how cattle are raised to low pay for workers. . . .
One of the earliest titles in the nascent genre is Persuasive's "Disaffected!," which puts players in the role of managing a FedEx Kinko's copy franchise.
"Disaffected!" gives players the chance to step into the shoes of "demotivated" FedEx Kinkos employees, a blurb about the game on Persuasive Game's Web site said. "Feel the indifference of these purple-shirted malcontents firsthand, and consider the possible reasons behind their malaise--is it mere incompetence? Managerial affliction? Unseen but serious labor issues?"
Another new game, from the Italian design shop Molleindustria, skewers McDonald's by taking players though a game experience in which they discover that to make money running the company they must exploit underdeveloped countries and low-wage workers and feed unhealthy growth hormones to cattle.
"Behind every sandwich, there is a complex process you must learn to manage," Molleindustria said in a statement. "From the creation of pastures to the slaughter, from the restaurant management to the branding. You'll discover all the dirty little secrets that made (McDonald's) one of the biggest companies (in) the world." (Daniel Terdiman, Games that Stick it to the Man, CNET, Feb. 3, 2006).

(McDonald's Videogame by Molleindustria, The Game)
McDonald's Videogame by Molleindustria is particularly interesting in this regard. The game designers explain the purpose of the game:

 Making money in a corporation like McDonald's is not simple at all! Behind every sandwich there is a complex process you must learn to manage: from the creation of pastures to the slaughter, from the restaurant management to the branding. You'll discover all the dirty secrets that made us one of the biggest company of the world. (McDonald's Videogame by Molleindustria, The Game)

The underlying goals are also clear, if you read carefully:

For decades McDonald’s corporation has been heavily criticized for his negative impact on society and environment.
There are inevitably some glitches in our activity: rainforest destruction, livelihood losses in the third world, desertification, precarization of working conditions, food poisoning and so on…
Denying all these well founded accusations would be impossible so we decided to create an online game to explain to young people that this is the price to pay in order to preserve our lifestyle.
We’ll continue on our way, with our well-known determination. Join us and have fun with us!
Ronald McDonald ((McDonald's Videogame by Molleindustria, Why This Game)
The game can be downloaded:
Do you wanna play McDonald's videogame offline?
Do you wanna publish it on your website or portal?
Here are the files you can download and share for free:
Stand-alone version for PC exe zip
1934 Kb
Stand-alone version for Mac hqx
3697 Kb
Online version for Flash enabled browsers swf
1402 Kb

So why the fuss?  Efforts like these provide a window on an emerging and potentially powerful method of teaching, and especially of explaining and training people in new bases of normative values.  This might prove particularly useful to organizations seeking, for example, to reach consumers and investors that might affect corporate behavior (it is, of course, also extremely useful for teaching normative values in relation to the state).   The McDonald's game teaches about the functioning of a complex corporation in the food service sector that drives home lessons that when taught directly, tend to be lost on everyone but the most sophisticated audiences.  The lessons have a strong normative component that problematize the basic values of shareholder welfare maximization, policy on environmental and labor relations, supply chain control and decision time horizons,.  It suggests the difficulties of corporate relations with stakeholders, consumers, investors and the state.  One can criticize the game for completeness or point of view, but it effectively teaches complex subjects and advances a normative position that would otherwise be hard to convey.  It also marks the way ion which education can serve political and policy ends.  

Civil society actors interested in naturalizing a societal acceptance of the values of business and human rights, of corporate social responsibility and other values would do well to consider the power of teaching through the development and wide distribution of games like this.  Corporations are not helpless in the face of these games; they are also free to develop and distribute their own versions of these sorts of games.  Especially where soft law requires deepening a sense of the importance and methods that they represent, games may prove to be the most effective means of teaching consumers about critical values.  For groups that may be disadvantaged, such games may also provide an easy basis of teaching them how to seek remedies and the nature of their rights.  Such games might, for example, serve to broaden knowledge about John Ruggie's Protect-Respect and Remedy framework.  It might provide a vehicle for teaching sensitivity to the rights built into the OECD's Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. 

Let the games begin.

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