Middle East peace a reality in new game

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Many have tried. All have failed. But with a new computer game, you can make peace in the Middle East.

The software, called PeaceMaker and manufactured by Israeli and US programmers in the United States, allows you to play the part of the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian president and make diplomatic, security and economic decisions.

The interface shows a map of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Windows pop up periodically, each presenting a picture or video of a scenario, such as a Palestinian suicide bombing or an Israeli air strike, likely to trigger a response.

As in real life, each move leads to a reaction by a party to the conflict or within the international community. The goal of the peacemaker is to reach compromises and eventually a peace agreement, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The secret is to opt for the middle route, to walk between the drops and not make radical decisions, said one of the developers, Israeli native Asi Burak. You have to know when to ignore things and when to respond.

If you play the Israeli leader and order an air strike following a Palestinian attack, you risk stoking Palestinian anger and more violence. A tough military response might also draw criticism from world powers, who may deny you support.

But if you choose not to respond militarily, you may face criticism at home, and could eventually be voted out of office.

As Palestinian president, you will likely win support from Israel and the international community if you rein in militants after a suicide bombing in the Jewish state, according to the game s parameters.

But confronting militants could make you unpopular among a Palestinian electorate that voted the Islamic group Hamas into office in 2006. A more cautious approach might be to demand Israel stop military action in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Burak and Eric Brown created the game as a project during their time at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, which has since used it in its courses. They began selling it online earlier this year under their label ImpactGames.

We tried to answer all the things that we felt were critical – Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, so that it would stay timeless, Burak said. We did not name names of leaders.

He said he and Brown consulted with Palestinian students as they were developing the game and also had Muslims and Jews, including Palestinians and Israelis, test it periodically. Still, he said, some people let bias cloud their judgment.

It depends how people approach it psychologically and what kind of baggage they are carrying, Burak said. Many Israelis have said they found it very difficult playing the Palestinian side, for example. Also, people tend to play their own side.

The scenarios pop up randomly, but many are based on sequences of events that have occurred in the past between Israel and the Palestinians, Burak said.

If you play the game correctly, windows showing scenarios that indicate progress towards peace will appear. You may learn, as the Israeli or Palestinian leader, that opinion polls show your people appreciate your efforts to resolve the conflict.

The PeaceMaker game is being sold on the company s web site for $20. It can be played in English, Hebrew or Arabic.

Games on the Middle East conflict launched in the past have allowed people to play various roles in the region, such as a foreign journalist or a suicide bomber.

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By Reuters
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