How video games can save the world

Most people think ‘video games’ and picture big, fun blockbuster popcorn thrills like Call of Duty.

But there are some developers out there who feel that games can talk about difficult issues. One such man is Blindflug Studios’ Moritz Zumbhul, whose games so far have covered the migrant crisis in Europe and nuclear war.

Blindflug is a spin-off of a digital agency called Feinheit, which Zumbhul founded in 2013. He had some big ambitions for Blindflug.

We wanted to make fun and beautiful games about difficult topics,” Zumbhul says.

We asked ourselves what we should do. My co-founder and I were on the way back from a conference, and I asked if we could make a game about nuclear war. He thought I meant from a game standpoint; I actually meant from a political and artistic side.

We started First Strike in the summer of 2013, and released it in March 2014. We did it just ourselves, we published it on the App Store, and to our surprise we became a huge success and sold 150,000 copies worldwide. It really helped us to bootstrap the studio.

After First Strike, we looked at what we were going to do next. I was very frustrated because the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea was already a big problem. I asked my team whether we could make a game about migration, about refugees, and they were all very sceptical, because with nuclear war it is clear – everybody is pretty sure it’s a bad idea – but with migration there are many different points of view.

It was also quite unclear if we could make a game which really covered the experience and journey, but was also a fun game.”

"The problem is that people think something
that is fun cannot be serious."

Moritz Zumbhul, Blindflug Studios

Covering these tough topics is something that is very close to Zumbhul’s heart.

Games are the most important form of art in the present day,” he says. We as an industry often forget that. It came so suddenly, not just in terms of revenue and the sheer number of people who play games, but also in terms of importance for society.

Games are the mass media art form of the 21st century. I’m not sure if our industry is aware of what kind of responsibility this brings. I’m not saying that we are doing it how we should do it – we are just trying to explore how we can take this responsibility and try to bring something to society, which is one of the responsibilities that artists have.”

He continues: The problem is that people think that something that is fun cannot be serious. People still think that to talk about serious issues or important problems, then players need to be serious and not in a ‘fun’ mood. That’s not true, that’s not how
we are.

Most problem solvers are players. It’s how we learn. We try to find solutions by trial-and-error in games. You can simulate, you can make decisions, you can even make the wrong or bad decisions and you don’t hurt anybody: you learn. That’s something that we should discover and explore more.”

So far, Blindflug has just focused on releasing games for mobile.

Our strategy is ‘release early and release often’,” Zumbhul says.

As a small studio that is self-funded – we have no backers – we wanted to go where we could have the biggest impact in the smallest amount of time. What we do is release a game every year. It’s quite challenging, but also gives you a good boundary – because you can’t make big titles, you have to iterate very quickly.

We want to release a game and see what the reaction from players is; if they love it we’ll improve it, we’ll continue, and that’s why we had to start with mobile.

Mobile is something also that’s really changing how games are received by the public. My mother- in-law plays mobile games, my grandmother who is 86 plays mobile games… that’s a chance we won’t miss. We don’t think we can reach out to the general public with our games if they were made for console or PC – they’re not there yet. We need something that everybody has, and that’s a smartphone or tablet.”

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