Heikki Holmås, Norway’s new minister of international development, believes role-playing games can solve real-world political problems.
Since the Israel-Palestine conflict began many decades ago, there’s one solution that probably hasn’t been tried: role-playing.
Heikki Holmås, Norway’s new minister of international development, is a lifelong D&D player and LARPer — and believes such games could help make headway in that longstanding struggle. He recently spoke with Imagonem, and mentioned a Norwegian LARP project taking place in Palestine this year:
I don’t know all the details, but there’s no doubt that you can put Israelis into the situation of the Palestinians and vice versa in a way that fosters understanding and builds bridges. Those things are an important aspect of role playing games which makes it possible to use them politically to create change.
His comments sound right in line with Jane McGonigal’s gospel about how gaming can solve real-world problems. Could it work?
Many remember when role-playing games were demonized after a pair of high-profile suicides by young men who played RPGs. Many of us laugh now at the idea that these games can harm people. In fact, they’re used in psychological settings, and in the classroom, because they’re recognized for powerful tools that teach players empathy. Given the chance to step into someone else’s personality and situation for a while, we learn a lot about them, whether they’re a treasure-hunting orc — or a lifelong political enemy.
Holmås had more to say about the benefits of role-playing games:
RPGs can be extremely relevant in putting people in situations they’re unfamiliar with. Save the Children have their refugee games. I have friends in Bergen who’ve run human rights-RPGs. But you have to be professional. You create real emotions when you play role playing games, real emotions that stick, he says.
That’s kind of the slightly scary aspect of role playing games, which has to be considered. At the same time, it’s what makes it possible for RPGs to change the world. LARP can change the world, because it lets people understand that humans under pressure may act differently than in the normal life, when you’re safe.