Party Animals – gamers unite at the NATO Gaming Tournament in Warsaw
At the NATO Gaming Tournament in Warsaw, Poland, thousands of gamers from across the Alliance and around the world gathered to play online games and chat with experts from NATO Headquarters. From countering disinformation to reconciling differences in an organisation of diverse countries, the gamers and NATO staff discussed key challenges facing NATO – and where the Alliance is headed in the future.
The vibe in the room is casual and relaxed. Young gamers from Warsaw mingle with artists, soldiers and NATO experts. In one corner, troops from NATO’s multinational battlegroup in Poland play vintage console games, including Street Fighter and Super Mario. In another area, gamers mash buttons on old arcade games like Pac-Man.
But the main action is online. Thousands of viewers tune into Twitch livestreams hosted by online gamers from both sides of the Atlantic: GrabaGra and Seto in Poland, ZeRoyalViking and Mischascrossing in the United States.
Also hosting the event is young Polish actor and Netflix star Maciej Musial, who has been partnering with NATO this year to help tell the Alliance’s story in his own words – and who was recognised at the event as a NATO Protect the Future champion. For Maciej, like for many others, the motivation to work with NATO is driven by both political values and a personal connection.
“My grandfather was a Second World War soldier,” he says. “He was an amazing person – my best friend. He built that feeling of patriotism in me. He always was thanking everyone he met, who was either a doctor or a bus driver, and especially people who serve in the army. He was really thanking them for whatever they do, and he was always telling me… serve a good cause, if you find a place to do so.”
So when Maciej received an offer to partner with NATO, he was eager to talk about the values of NATO from his own perspective.
“He passed away a year ago, and after half a year, I received that invitation. And I didn’t think for a second. I immediately agreed. Because he always said that we are on a very specific place on the map, from a geopolitical perspective, in Poland. And we need strong friends. He was super happy when we joined NATO. And he always said that this is a really important alliance for us to be in. So being able to serve a little bit to the cause, it’s a great honour for me.”
During the tournament, Maciej and the Twitch streamers played two popular online games with NATO staff.
First, the gamers took on pandemic classic Among Us, where a group of astronauts have to sniff out the impostor in their space ship – and the impostor has to sabotage the life-support systems and wipe out the rest of the crew without getting caught. The game provided a great springboard for a discussion about disinformation, as the impostors help spread false narratives about their innocent crewmates in order to stir up suspicion and avoid capture.
“How can we, as an Alliance and as common people, do any countermeasures [against disinformation]?” asked GrabaGra at one point. “How can we verify information?”
“The same as we were doing before in the game – not believing people just because they say so,” said one of the NATO experts. “We were seeing in the game, someone said, ‘Oh, [the impostor] has been Red!’ And without any proof, people believed that it was Red… This is a bit how disinformation works, right? Someone said something randomly, and usually the person that is creating disinformation doesn’t want you to believe that it was them – they just want to confuse you and sow this question mark… So as citizens, the most important thing is to be informed, to check your sources, and to try not to trust random information just because you saw it online.”
Screenshot of Among Us © Innersloth studio 2018
Next, the players tried a new online game called Party Animals, where two teams of adorable floppy animal characters fight to push each other out of an alpine cabin into the freezing night, or off a subway platform in front of a speeding train. Despite the adversarial gameplay, the players had a friendly conversation about how NATO has evolved over the course of its 75-year history.
“I wanted to ask you about how NATO has changed over the years, but I think that us playing Party Animals with NATO [staff] members is a good example of that,” GrabaGra joked.
ZeRoyalViking had a more reflective take: “I was born two years after the Soviet Union fell… Growing up, I never really heard anything, I never really thought about NATO or feeling scared, but I know my parents did… It’s easy to grow up and not really understand why an organisation exists, and that’s why you guys are doing this right now.”
“One of the things we forget is that the world we live in now, the peace that we mostly live in now, is historically not the norm,” said one of the NATO experts. “And it’s organisations like NATO – and also the European Union, the United Nations, this whole rules-based international order – that has created that. And so we’ve grown up in this world thinking, ‘This is just normal, this is how it always should be, it will be that way just naturally.’ No. You need people who are really actively defending that type of system, or else it can be eroded – and we see the hostile actors trying to erode it. So we need to be engaged from our local communities all the way up to the international level at NATO.”
The gamers also discussed how NATO’s dozens of member countries bring diverse and valuable perspectives to the Alliance, and wondered if this could also pose a challenge in terms of finding agreement, since all NATO decisions must be unanimously agreed by all NATO member countries.
“Do you agree that it’s an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time?” asked GrabaGra. “Because you have different expertise, but also different countries have different histories, different values and other things, and it’s pretty hard to make consensus for everyone.”
“I think this is the beauty of NATO,” said another expert. “It’s the beauty of its democracy, of its ability to manage consensus between all the different Allies. And the fact that it’s been able to adopt more and more members… testifies to its ability to remain a values-based alliance and keep everyone united… The fact that NATO has managed to keep all the Allies together, united and actually joining efforts for 75 years, is for me the best proof that NATO is the most valuable alliance.”
Screenshot of Party Animals © Recreate Games 2023
The NATO Gaming Tournament was the latest event in the Protect the Future campaign, one of NATO’s key efforts for reaching out to the next generation of citizens in NATO countries. As part of the campaign, young people like Maciej from across the Alliance have taken part in a wide range of activities – including visiting the USS Gerald R. Ford, the world’s largest warship, and getting a front-row seat to see world leaders gather at NATO’s 2023 Vilnius Summit Public Forum.
“NATO’s first gaming tournament here in Poland is one of the highlights of our Protect the Future campaign,” said Marie-Doha Besancenot, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. “Discussing NATO’s role with gamers is rewarding; it provides an opportunity for genuine conversations with a valued community. The citizens of all Allied countries are at the heart of our Alliance’s strength, so we are determined to continue engaging with them.”