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Games without frontiers

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 19 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:863
  1. Naomi Marks, freelance journalist (naomi{at}
  1. London

    For those promoting peace, the world of videogames might seem one to give as wide a berth as possible.

    More often than not encouraging players to indulge in fast paced, point scoring action and see the world from one perspective only, videogames have a seemingly deserved reputation for fostering a war mongering and violent mind set in the young people who find them so compelling. Certainly, this entertainment medium seems inherently at odds with the world of conflict resolution—where the slower the pace, the greater the ability to see the world through others' eyes, and the more focused on the long term, the more likely a “win” is to be achieved.

    Those working in the highly charged Middle East region in particular might have good reason to question what videogame technology can offer. After all, not so long ago a videogame from Hezbollah, Special Force, featuring simulated attacks on the Israeli army, was the top must-have game for the youngsters of Beirut's Shiite neighbourhoods.

    As for what has been available to the “other side,” America dominates the videogame market and a rash of anti-Arab ones in particular have been released since “9/11.”

    ImpactGames's Asi Burak and Eric Brown, however, are hoping to market a game with a difference—a simulation game tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a progressive way. Their creation, PeaceMaker (, asks players to first assume either the role of the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian president. They must then interact in their virtual world with eight other “actors”—political leaders and social groups—as well as react to events such as peace negotiations, military attacks, and suicide bombs. The aim is to reach a stable resolution by the end of their prime ministerial or presidential term of office.

    The game has three levels of difficulty—calm, tense, or violent—though a provocative incident confronts players from the start of the game whichever level is chosen. Onscreen action takes place using a high resolution map of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip, and the use of a library of video footage of news events makes it a more real experience for players.

    Burak and Brown claim that PeaceMaker allows “what if” scenarios to be explored and events to be seen from alternative perspectives. It also opens the door to further debate, they say.

    The game started life as a student project at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center but the international support it has received has seen it developed into a commercial project.

    Brown says: “In a sense, peacemaking can be more complicated, sophisticated, and rewarding than war making. We tried to shed light on how challenging it is for a leader to gain trust and understanding in the face of constant violence. How difficult it is to execute concessions, while your own population is under stress or feeling despair.”

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