Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Could you make Peace???


Many people fancy themselves as extremely knowledgeable of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the stalled peace-process. I have often heard the refrain "Why can't they just make peace, it's so simple!" well now everyone can have a go in a simulator video game.
A Palestinian suicide bomber blows up a bus, leaving the newly elected Israeli prime minister to puzzle over a response. A missile strike could ease security fears, or prompt more violence. A diplomatic approach might anger Israelis, leading to an assassination plot. The complex choices facing leaders in the Middle East have long confounded observers. But two graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University are hoping their video game based on the conflict will help players find solutions - and raise capital for their new company. Asi Burak and Eric Brown, along with a team of fellowr students, have spent more than a year building PeaceMaker, a computer game that attempts to simulate the violence and political turbulence of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. With graduation just weeks away, Burak - a 34-year-old former Israeli intelligence officer - and Brown - a 29-year-old game developer with a degree in painting - recently formed a company, ImpactGames, to try to take the game to market. But will a video game focused on a sensitive geopolitical standoff attract both players and investors? Proponents of so-called serious games, an emerging genre of interactive games that tackle real-world problems, think so.
Unlike most serious games, PeaceMaker aims to bridge the gap between education and entertainment and reach players from diverse backgrounds. Burak and Brown hope to do that in a market hungry for games featuring death and destruction, but also receptive to the nonviolent themes featured in best sellers such as The Sims and Myst. "We had a challenge to make a peace game engaging," Burak said. "What we see out there is all of those war games. There is a reason people are making them - because they're engaging, there is a challenge, there is a conflict." In PeaceMaker, players choose between the role of an Israeli prime minister or a Palestinian Authority president. They make policy decisions, communicate with the international community and monitor opinion polls while coping with "black events" - bursts of violence that threaten to throw the game off course. "They might happen at any time, like a suicide bomb or an Israeli military attack, and they can ruin your progress in one day," he said. "You make progress, you build trust and suddenly everyone is upset again and it's chaotic." The game's objective is peace through a two-state solution, but players can wage attacks at any time. "We're not trying to say these things aren't available," Brown said. "We didn't want to restrict the player." PeaceMaker incorporates news footage of actual events "to pull you in" and make players "understand that you're connected to the real world."

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