As I write this, Monday the 29th of January, violence between the Fatah and Hamas factions in Palestine is tearing the guts out of Gaza City. Dozens have been killed in the last couple of days; shops and government buildings set ablaze; and fighters from both groups have begun a wave of kidnappings, snatching senior leaders from the opposition and holding them for ransom.
The Palestinian economy, already depressed, weakens further as businesses close and people stay home to avoid the danger. The chances of forming a functioning government in Palestine are at their lowest ebb. Negotiations with Israel are at a standstill, because how can the Israelis bargain meaningfully with someone who might be dead or kidnapped tomorrow?
Personally, I’m so fed up with these militants that I’ve ordered a targeted assassination of some of their leaders. The last time I tried this, it fizzled. My death squad broke into the man’s home and found nobody there but an old lady and a little girl, so they left. Word got out and everybody snickered at the incompetence of my security forces. This time, however, things went better: they blew him up with a car bomb, and I’ve seen a photograph of the blazing car. The militants are furious, but my standing with ordinary Palestinians has gone up a little, and that’s my main concern. The rest of the world, for the most part, doesn’t much care about the political murder I’ve just committed.
The first two paragraphs of this column are actual fact, and refer to the browser window on the left side of my screen, which is open to the BBC News website. The third paragraph refers to the right-hand window, in which I’m role-playing the President of the Palestinian Authority in a pre-release version of PeaceMaker, a forthcoming title from Impact Games. The contents of the two windows are startlingly similar, and the effect is greatly heightened by the game’s use of real news photographs and video footage from Israel and Palestine.
There’s no animation in PeaceMaker, nothing cute, nothing that someone can dismiss as “only a game.” When a missile strike goes awry, or a suicide bomber strikes, the blood and bodies you see on the screen are those of real people. More than any other game I’ve ever played, PeaceMaker portrays the truth – or a subset of it – both the good and the bad.
The game styles itself “a video game to promote peace.” It began life as a master’s degree project at Carnegie-Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, but is now a commercial product due for release in a few weeks. PeaceMaker has already received a great deal of attention from the world press. You can read other reports through an extensive collection of links available at the game’s website.
As you might expect, I’m chiefly interested in it from the designer’s perspective. We’re all familiar with the concept of asymmetric warfare these days, and almost all war games are asymmetric anyway. But what about asymmetric peacefare? The folks at Impact Games kindly let me take an early look.