Tuesday, July 24, 2007

World Leader Pretend/"PeaceMaker" Computer Game

(image by David-Baptiste Chirot)

"In the video game 'PeaceMaker,' my character is the Prime Minister of Israel. And a suicide bomb has just gone off in Jerusalem..."; so begins Robert Smith's piece on the new video game, PeaceMaker.

In the other story on npr, Steve Inskeep also took the role of the Israeli Prime Minister, and guess what? suicide bomb in Jerusalem. (See the transcript below). At first, I was a little annoyed that, per usual, our fearless reporters could only imagine (and we, by proxy--that they could only imagine that we would understand) being Israelis. And that those nutty Palestinians are always making trouble and suicide-bombing "us."

But actually, the story comes around to suggest that the makers of the game (one of whom was an Israeli soldier) created the game, in a sense, to attempt to understand the Palestinian side of the conflict--and what might need to happen to create peace.

If only our fearless leaders were as creative as gamers.

(some transcript)

INSKEEP: News report: suicide bomber kills 18 and injures over 100 in West Jerusalem. We have a picture of a burning bus.

Mr. BURAK: And you can actually watch the event, so we have footage from, you know, past events like that. And again, you get the idea that this is a game, but a game about current events, about real events, and it's not only about two sides. You got the public, you've got the settlers.

INSKEEP: The people who have moved and done settlements in the West Bank.

Mr. BURAK: The U.S.A. and the Arab world. And next to each one of them there is this thermometer.

INSKEEP: Oh, showing how tense or how engaged or unhappy they are at the moment.

Mr. BURAK: With you, with your policy.

INSKEEP: Oh, okay. Let's figure out some things that we can do. Let's not do the most extreme thing.

Mr. BURAK: Let's do something that is...

INSKEEP: We got to get some troops out on the street.

Mr. BURAK: Yes. Security, but kind of more moderate. And by the way, you have advisers.

INSKEEP: Oh, okay.

Mr. BURAK: So let's look at them.

INSKEEP: We're thinking about sending army units and - oh, I have advice from a hawk and a dove, so to speak.

Mr. BURAK: Right.

Mr. BURAK: What do they say?

Mr. BURAK: Each one of them will try to pull you in another direction. So the hawk will tell you definitely send the army because it will raise your security. But the dove will tell you that the presence of troops will actually hurt the Palestinian quality of life.

INSKEEP: Okay. Not because it's automatically a good idea or a bad idea, let's do it because we want to proceed and see what happens with the game.

Mr. BURAK: Let's try to do that and let's send army units to - we can choose different objectives. Let's do something simple as securing the area.


Mr. BURAK: Now time passes.


Mr. BURAK: So you kind of...

INSKEEP: Several days just went by.

Mr. BURAK: Skip the week, yeah.


Mr. BURAK: Yeah. If you look at the score, that's interesting. We don't have only one score. We have two. So on the Israeli side, we got actually positive score because people approved of our action.

INSKEEP: Are we trying to get to a hundred points? Is that what we're trying to do to win?

Mr. BURAK: On the two sides.

INSKEEP: On the two sides. So we've got four points. We got a good start. And on the Palestinian side, we're at negative seven.

Mr. BURAK: Right.

INSKEEP: We've lost a bunch of points.

Mr. BURAK: So yeah. And I want to show you something that in Peacemaker it's - we made it so it's not - I mean, you see the complexity in a way that is counterintuitive. So for example, if a naive user just did what we did and sent the army and got this response from the Palestinians and says, oh, you know what? Let's send them aid.

INSKEEP: And try to buy them off, that will make them unhappy.

Mr. BURAK: Yeah. Let's give them, you know, directly medical aid.

INSKEEP: Okay. Let's send them some aid and see what happens. See if we can improve our opinion among the Palestinians. Your request rejected.

Mr. BURAK: Yeah. Because...

INSKEEP: They don't want it.

Mr. BURAK: Because yeah, the game has a memory in the sense that you just did something that is perceived as a security action.

INSKEEP: No one believes that such an effort is genuine, it says

Mr. BURAK: Yeah. And they just don't believe you.


Mr. BURAK: Because of what you did just a week before.

INSKEEP: So I got nothing; although I got another point of the Israeli side.

Mr. BURAK: Right.

INSKEEP: But the Palestinians aren't happy.

Mr. BURAK: Right.

INSKEEP: So I'm starting to get tense. What can we do now? I don't like to lose. All right. Help me out here. Give me an idea. We've clearly - I clearly lost control of the situation. There's more red dots all over the map, more terrible things happening. How would you get out of this situation? How do you ever get out of this situation?

Mr. BURAK: I mean, one thing that happens with Peacemaker a lot is that you'll play it several times and the first time that you play it you will probably lose the game. Part of that losing is part of the lesson, you know, to see that frustration and lack of control that you have. I mean we played it for five minutes. You can't win in five minutes something, you know, 60 years is - you can't really solve.

INSKEEP: I want to ask because you're an Israeli. You're an Israeli army captain. You must have played this game any number of times from the Palestinian point of view.

Mr. BURAK: Right.

INSKEEP: Have you learned things you didn't know?

Mr. BURAK: Yeah, definitely. I mean, not only by playing it but actually the process of working on the game; and we used Palestinians, people that helped us in writing the content and translating it. I mean it was a huge thing for me because what I realized is that the first time that I actually talked to Palestinians and understood their perspective was when I came to the U.S. after 33 years. So that's a big deal.

INSKEEP: When you came to the U.S., because when you were in that tense situation...

Mr. BURAK: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...it was hard to...

Mr. BURAK: It was very hard to communicate with Palestinians. It was very hard to see their perspective. And I think it's true for almost any conflict. I mean if you're in a certain place, what you get through the media is a one-sided - even though you think you get the objective story, you don't get it.

INSKEEP: That's Asi Burak. He and a colleague, Eric Brown, invented the computer game Peacemaker.

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