If you don't have time to call your senator, stage a protest or partake in a rescue mission at a slaughterhouse, you can at least save some chickens on your phone. Thanks to the new animal rights app Paintball Hero, created by 17-year-old game developer Skylar Thomas, animal liberation is now as easy as click, swipe, win.
An animal rights activist since early childhood, Thomas sought to start a conversation about animal abuse and mistreatment through gaming. He partnered with PETA2, the youth chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to turn animal rights activism into a 3-D mobile app experience. In the multilevel game, activists or "rebels" can rescue animals in three settings: factory farms, rain forests and circuses. As players move through their various missions, they blast corporate gatekeepers via the fatal forces of "education paintballs," colorful blocks that educate as they kill. In the high-stakes land of Paintball Hero, getting informed can get deadly.
The response to the game, Thomas says, has been largely positive. The game's reach has been wide, extending far beyond the animal rights echo chamber. Thomas says the app has even attracted players who once derided the vegan lifestyle. "They didn't realize until becoming engaged in playing what they were actually doing in the game," he says, "And then they asked questions. Then, they paused to think."
Paintball Hero is not the only game to create a narrative around a cause. In recent years, there has been an influx of games centered on social and political issues, from sexism to racism to the refugee crisis. The Cat in the Hijab, created by Andrew Wang, features stylized cats who are lobbed with hate speech on a subway train. Here, users enter a world that conjures our own, inhabited by feline bigots who could very well have some ancestral ties to brutish Twitter trolls.
In 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, produced by iNK Stories, users play a photojournalist caught in the deadly throes of the Islamic Revolution. The storyline presents some tough choices: Do you side with your family or political allies? Do you partake in nonviolence or armed struggle? Growing up as a child in Iran during the revolution, game director Navid Khonsari hoped the game would help players understand the moral ambiguities that activists face during war.