A new video game was released in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. It challenges users to participate in creating solutions to the decades old Arab-Israeli conflict. Called "PeaceMaker," the new game reflects a growing trend in the videogame industry: using entertainment to promote learning and problem solving in socially constructive ways. VOA's Bill Rodgers narrates.
"PeaceMaker" is designed to simulate aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Players are challenged to promote peace through cooperation and multilateral negotiation.
Israeli-born Asi Burak helped create the game. "And what we wanted to do was [develop a game] that someone can just dive in[to] in a minute and deal with the real issues, which are the conflict, the way to approach it, how to take leadership," he says.
PeaceMaker's official premiere was held earlier this month at the World Affairs Council of America conference in Washington, D.C. The game is now available to consumers -- in Hebrew, Arabic, and English -- as a download from the Internet, for about $20 U.S.
Burak's partner, designer and businessman Eric Brown, is confident it will attract customers. "It is no different than any other strategy game in terms of engagement. There are a lot of games that are similar to what we have created."
What is different from many of the most popular video games on the market is that PeaceMaker does not rely on violent action sequences to attract players. Its developers are just part of a growing number of people who believe the video gaming market is ripe for new and innovative content.
"Why would it need to actually have that, killing people a thousand times in thirty seconds to be engaging,” wonders Brown. “And I think that people are engaged because they are challenged and as long as we can do that we should be able to be the same as any other business."
Today a growing number of organizations and software developers have come to believe that video games can be put to socially useful applications in promoting health awareness, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Called by many the "serious games" initiative, Burak believes this trend is showing signs of blossoming into a serious social movement.
"The serious games initiative and games for change is a growing trend due to the fact that many people feel that video games [have] become the dominant media form of this century."
The idea that video games might be uniquely suited to helping train peacemakers is an idea that has been endorsed by both educators and professional diplomats, including former U.S. Mideast Envoy Dennis Ross.
He says, "In these kinds of games you are looking for everyone gaining. If it is a game that is something that promotes a zero-sum mentality, then it works against conflict resolution. If it promotes the imagery that you gain by cooperating, you gain by adjusting, you gain by giving up mythologies then it actually is responding to what any negotiation requires."
The game's designers point out that many workers entering today's work force grew up playing video games and that it is a natural way to learn new skills. And if those skills can help contribute to solving some of society's most nagging problems, all the better.