- Popular video game adapted to satirize corruption in India
- 'Angry Anna' made by Indian app developers to help support Anna Hazare
- Topical game took three days to make
- Analyst believes adapting video games is good way to transmit social message
When Indian activist Anna Hazare last month succeeded in pushing his government to take tougher steps against political dishonesty, victory came only after he endured days on hunger strike.
But the 74-year-old ascetic may also partly have another unlikely source to thank for his victory -- a computer game that carried his anti-corruption message to hundreds of thousands of people.
And while Hazare's campaign may have brought about a watershed in India's long battle against graft, it could mark the advent of a new era of online activism driven by interactive games created through easy-to-use software.
The computer game, "Angry Anna," is a straightforward pastiche of "Angry Birds," a simple yet addictive game that has become one of the most downloaded apps of all time.
Whereas the original game involves using a slingshot to fire birds at pigs, "Angry Anna" substitutes the birds for caricatures of Hazare and fellow activists Baba Ramdev and Kiran Bedi and the pigs for Indian politicians including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Mohammad Faisal, who co-created the game with two colleagues at his New Delhi-based development company Geek Mentors Studio, said "Angry Anna" was put together in under three days, a speed that allowed them to feed into the momentum of Hazare's protest.
"We wanted to go to a candlelight march at (New Delhi landmark) India Gate but we were unable to because of the heavy work load in our office, so we thought, why not build a game so people can vent their frustration by sitting in an office and playing," said Faisal.
"We didn't expect it to be so successful."
According to figures from GameSalad, the company whose software was used to build "Angry Anna," the game has been played online nearly 267,000 times. Faisal believes such figures allow him and his colleagues to take some credit for Hazare's success.
"Definitely it made some impact in India anyway," he said.
Faisal said the key to the game's success was the swiftness with which it was published -- a speed made possible by GameSalad's free drag-and-drop software that allows even the non-computer-language literate to build games.
Once created, the games can be published in HTML5 -- the latest revision of the web's core language -- which means it can be played on almost any browser and easily broadcast around the internet, bypassing approval procedures required by outlets like Apple's app store.
Steve Felter, CEO of GameSalad, says although "Angry Anna" pushes a specific political message, it wasn't unexpected.
"'Angry Anna was the first example of that of something that was able to be produced in a few days; very topical, somewhat controversial, but able to be quickly spread through social networks because everyone can access HTML5 through the browser," he said.
"We thought that something like 'Angry Anna' might happen, but this is the first time, so we we're really pleased that people are using (the software) for these kind of messages."
Felter says with games offering more interactivity than other internet media such as video, they are likely to open up as a new form of online communication, particularly now that companies such as GameSalad are opening up game creation to non-experts.
"The reason that this hasn't happened to date on a wide scale is that the tools of game creation weren't really available to the average person, they required large teams that do coding and all the costly items that go into creating a popular game," he said.
"So technology like GameSalad that makes it so easy for people to create games quickly -- it's able to empower a lot of people to express themselves in a medium that wasn't available in the past."
Jane McGonigal, author of the New York Times bestselling book "Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World?," says she also believes "Angry Anna" could be an indication of a new dawn for games that even goes beyond sending messages.
"'Angry Anna' is a fascinating demonstration of the power of games when they're harnessed for social change. It's a brilliant satire of 'Angry Birds,' which hundreds of millions of people have played," she said.
"I think it's fair to say that, over the past year, more people have spent more time playing 'Angry Birds' than experienced any other entertainment form -- more than any film, TV show, or book. So if you want to get a social message across, what better format than to adapt 'Angry Birds' for political satire?
"What I hope to see in the future are games used not only for messaging around social change, but also inspiring direct action. Give players who win the virtual game a chance to get involved in real change."