Peacemaker, a DVD-ROM in English, Hebrew and Arabic by Impact Games (www.peacemakergame.com and e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org), for PC (Windows 2000 or higher) or Mac (OSx 10.4 or higher), $19.95, for ages 13 through adult).
Rating: **** 1/2
To a cold-eyed observer from a distance, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may seem like an open-ended strategy game of terror, counterterror, attack and counterattack. Thus it is not surprising that a company co-founded by an Israeli living in the US has produced this game, which challenges you to untie the Gordian knot and forge the peace that has escaped Palestinian and Israeli leaders for decades.
Asi Burak, the game's executive producer and chief creative officer, who has a BA in design from the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, learned about advanced systems for communication and analysis as a captain in the IDF Intelligence Corps and then left to work as an art director in a major European advertising company and study "entertainment technology" in the US. Peacemaker, which he developed with Eric Brown, challenges you to succeed as a leader in bringing an end to the seemingly interminable bloodshed.
Aside from taking on technical advisers, the company hired Prof. Laurie Eisenberg, historian of the modern Middle East at Pittsburgh's Carnegie-Mellon University, who wrote a textbook on the Arab-Israeli peace process and has researched the Six Day War and the legacy of Jordan's late King Hussein.
You begin by choosing any of the three languages to play the game, and then you decide if you will lead as Israel's prime minister or the president of the Palestinian Authority (but you can switch to the other side whenever you wish). This strategy game is thus unusual, as it focuses on political leaders rather than military commanders. If you succeed at being a peacemaker by building trust between the two sides, you will finish the game by winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
The play is preceded by a video from genuine news footage showing suicide bomber attacks, IDF missions to halt the terror, the security barrier, closures to thwart Palestinian movement into Israel, the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn and a few poignant moments of coexistence. An interactive map of only part of Israel (including Sderot, but nothing north of Haifa or south of Beersheba), Gaza and the West Bank is shown. Click on the various cities, towns and settlements to get your bearings; a history time line is provided as well.
Your given aim, to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel that is willing to live with the Jewish state in peace, will not satisfy extremists on either side. There are three levels of difficulty - violent, tense and calm, even though the third is not often prevalent in this region - but there is no visible "agenda" that favors one side over the other.
There is a dual "satisfaction meter" on the left-hand side of the bottom of the screen that gauges the degree of approval or disapproval felt by the Israeli and Palestinian population, from -100 to +100. If your decisions and actions make this rating drop too far, you will be kicked out of the action and have to start again. Thus players who take the side of extreme Palestinians who want only bloodshed or of right-wing Israelis who want to take over all of Judea and Samaria will not get very far. MK Danny Yatom, the former head of the Mossad and a former general and negotiator, played the game. "It is clear that I need to send troops to destroy the infrastructure of the militants," he said, but then he was disappointed that this "hard-line policy" led to the on-screen message: "You Lost - Third Intifada. Game Over!"
There is pull-down menu of military, economic, diplomatic and other activities and subactivities you can choose from one turn at a time as leader of your people. But when you decide, as Israeli prime minister for example, to bulldoze illegally built Palestinian homes, set curfews or, alternatively, to take a conciliatory approach such as dismantling settlements, no action is seen. There are no visible attack helicopters, jet fighters or Kassam rockets, which is rather disappointing. Instead, when you click on your decision, the map momentarily turns dark, and you see the result as changes in the approval meter.
The Israeli PM (whose body, like that of the PA president, is shown but without an identifiable head) obviously has more leeway and more power at his disposal than his Palestinian counterpart. Diplomacy in foreign capitals, including Cairo and Amman, and at EU and the UN; foreign terrorists; and the media have a definite impact on your decisions.
The game is not very expansive, but it can be immersive. Students at Carnegie-Mellon recently won the University of Southern California's "Public Diplomacy Contest" for Peacemaker, and exploring all the options and learning the background of this endless dispute could be very educational. Perhaps Ehud Olmert, Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh would like to play it together.