May 24, 2007
Save the computer peace, save the world
Role-playing game seeks Mideast understanding
Click the BIG ARROW for a video look at PeaceMaker
That's what Itamar Azulay, a 32-year-old Israeli general contractor, had to say about "PeaceMaker," a computer game for both Mac and PC that challenges players to do what many have tried and failed to do: bring peace to the Middle East.
"There's no way to do it," he said, visibly frustrated with the game. Azulay has been living in the San Fernando Valley since he was 14, but hasn't lost his Israeli edge. He's also an avid gamer and a fan of Xbox's "Gears of War."
Both games revolve around the premise of war, but that is where the similarities end.
In "PeaceMaker," you play either as the Palestinian president or as the Israeli prime minister with the goal of achieving a two-state solution. You advance by earning approval from both sides. As the Palestinian president, you have to rack up 100 points with your people and 100 points with world leaders. As the Israeli leader, you must gain equal support from Israelis and Palestinians.
For example, releasing Palestinian prisoners and sending Israeli military personnel to train Palestinian security forces will earn you points with the Palestinians, but could spark an angry protest in Tel Aviv. On the flip side, tightening security at checkpoints and ordering assassinations of terrorists will make you an Israeli hero but could bring on a wave of suicide bombings in Jerusalem.
Asi Burak, one of the creators, knows a thing or two about the conflict. He was a captain in the Israeli Intelligence Corps.
"Making this game enabled me to talk to people on the other side -- something I never would have done in Israel," he said in a phone interview from Pittsburgh, where ImpactGames is headquartered. Americans, Israelis and Palestinians collaborated to make "PeaceMaker" as realistic and relevant as possible.
Photographs and video footage of actual events in Israel are used to show the consequences of your actions, a timeline of the region's history gives you a sense of what you're dealing with, and your options as the Israeli or Palestinian leader truly reflect reality.
As the Israeli prime minister, you have dozens of tools at your disposal -- launching missile attacks, making speeches at the United Nations, dismantling settlements and improving your own economy.
"The Israeli side in the game has all the power in the world," Burak said.
As the Palestinian president, you can make speeches, plead with Hamas and Fatah for restraint, urge your people to be patient and beg the United Nations for money.
"The Palestinian leader is limited. You feel very restricted playing that role," Burak said.
Burak and co-founder Eric Brown wanted their political strategy game, which started out as a master's project at Carnegie Mellon University, to be more than just an educational tool.
Burak believes there is a real value in the game, but the key is to play both sides. Unfortunately, he said, most people only play their own.
Azulay did try playing as the Palestinian leader. Although somewhat easier, he said, he still wasn't able to win the game, or even come close. At negative 52 points, Azulay caused a civil war to break out among "his people." When he played as the Israeli leader, he sparked a third intifada.
"There is no hope," Azulay said shrugging.
The game's trailer poses the question (in English, Hebrew and Arabic) "Can you be a peacemaker?"
For Itamar Azulay, the answer is "no."
For more information on "Peacemaker," which can be downloaded for $19.95, visit http://www.peacemakergame.com.