Simulating Peace in Israel and Palestine

Z. S. Justus

Today I restructured the Palestinian police force. Earlier in the day I launched a joint cultural initiative between Israelis and Palestinians, but not before I eased travel restrictions in Gaza. Of course I did not actually do any of these things, but an innovative simulation by Impactgames allowed me to try out different policy ideas and scenarios as part of their game/teaching tool Peacemaker. The simulation is part of a growing class of socially conscious games that seek to merge interactivity with education. The game has garnered positive reviews and sold 100,000 copies with distribution in over 60 countries. I had the opportunity to speak with game co-producer and former Israeli intelligence officer Asi Burak, he said that not only has the game been well received in the media, but that is has taught valuable lessons. He watched a group of Palestinian youths play and learn from the game and knows that it was used as a teaching tool at the US Army College. While educational games do not appear to be as popular as John Madden Football or World of Warcraft, they do represent an interesting foray into strategic communication.

Video games as a genre differ from films or books in that the player is both immersed and interactive (Hess, 2008). Unlike the passive interaction of viewable media, video games are an “interactive text” which the user manipulates. This can invite a greater level of engagement with the content of a game.

The principles of immersion and interaction both come to light in Peacemaker in interesting fashion. The opening video in Peacemaker presents a montage of events in the history of Palestine and Israel starting in 1922 and ending in the current moment. This montage gives the user a context for their experience in the game. The immersion continues as the user is consistently forced to deal with emergent events in the game including terrorist acts, international political pressure and so forth. Frequently these events and complemented by actual footage from prior news events. The player interacts with the game by making strategic choices such as those mentioned earlier. The most interesting part of the interactivity of the simulation is that it can be experienced from either side.

From the perspective of strategic communication this is a simply amazing product. The idea of experiencing a complicated conflict from multiple sides is exactly what most of us would want for those embroiled in a long term conflict. Asi told me that the experience was eye opening for a group of Israeli students he saw play the game as they struggled to make due with Palestine’s limited resources. In addition to multiple sides, the simulation requires the player to balance political, nationalist, economic, and religious goals rather than seeking a strictly military solution. The only way to win is if everyone is happy.

As a critic it is rare that I am able to look at a media product be it a book, movie, or song that deals with complicated issues and say “this is what we should be doing”, but Peacemaker is just such a product. The uniquely flexible interface of gaming may be a vehicle for the simulation of violence in many instances, but in this case, it is a vehicle for understanding and peace.

Hess, A. (2008). “You don’t play you volunteer”: Narrative public memory construction in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 24, 339-356.

2 Responses to “Simulating Peace in Israel and Palestine”

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  1. editor says:

    It’s worth keeping in mind the distinction between a game and a simulation. If this is a game and the only object is to have fun, how it works doesn’t matter so much. But if it’s a simulation that people are supposed to learn from (as is claimed in the web site) its value is closely tied to the realism of the assumptions and algorithms for generating effects (i.e., what happens when you restructure the Palestinian police force).

    The assumptions behind the game are here http://www.peacemakergame.com/blog/2007/02/25/design-assumptions-repost/ but the company does not say much about how the finer details of how the simulation works.

  2. justus says:

    That is a good point about game/simulation. From my conversation with Asi it sounds like they wanted the game part of it to be a launching point for people to learn. That being said it sounds like it has been used for simulation purposes by diplomat types.

    Impactgames has created a follow up called “Play the news” where users read about a news event, comment on the event and make predictions about the event that are then scored when the next “something” happens giving the players a ranking. The game is completely free and worth a look, it is easily accessible using the link to Impactgames in the original post.