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Peace is hard! Let's play a game!
Eleanor Lang, 19 Sep 07
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None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth. That's what Mark Twain' said when "The War Prayer" was rejected by his publisher; it wasn't published until after Twain's death, and after World War I. And although many Twain works show up on the typical high school reading list or college syllabus of American literature, most of you probably didn't read "The War Prayer" in school (especially if you grew up in a red state). It's unlikely you read it at home, either, unless you were raised by New Deal Democrats (which isn't dissimilar from being raised by wolves).

Despite a lack of gratuitous violence, bad language or licentious content, "The War Prayer", a prose poem with a simple premise, would probably provoke controversy today. It's set during wartime: soldiers are going off to fight, and the townspeople have gathered in church to pray for the victory of their fathers and sons. The minister's sermon is interrupted by a robed, bearded man who identifies himself as a messenger of God. He tells the assembly that their prayers, both spoken and unspoken, will be answered if they wish and explains vividly the deaths of the losers, including those of women and children, implied in their prayer.

More than 100 years after it was written, "The War Prayer" remains one of the most effective anti-war pieces ever written.

I like to think Mark Twain, who was a journalist, would have appreciated the game Global Conflicts: Palestine, in which the player assumes the role of a journalist new to Jerusalem and chooses to cover the Palestine-Israeli conflict for either a European, Israeli or Palestinian paper. Gameplay consists of exploring a 3-D environment, talking to sources, gaining their trust, and ultimately writing an article that includes quotes from the game's dialog. The game contains six missions, each with a story to cover, and score is represented by how well the story is written for the chosen publication: the more inflammatory and greater the slant for the audience, the higher the score, but the greater difficulty in collecting quotes on future missions, since the player/journalist is then seen as biased and unreliable.

Global Conflicts: Palestine was developed by Serious Games Interactive, a Danish-based non-profit company dedicated to using games to educate students about serious issues. Developed with the intention of being distributed to middle and high schools, the game is more intellectually than emotionally engaging, and demonstrates the difficulties fairness and accountability, in both war and in journalism.

PeaceMaker is an entirely different kind of game. It opens with emotionally riveting video clips of the history of the Israeli-Palestine conflict from 1948 to the present. The player then choses to be either the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President. By reacting to in-game events, from diplomatic negotiations to military attacks, the player has the challenge of doing better -- or at least not making things worse. This, it seems, is incredibly difficult; the player/Prime Minister/President most satisfy the demands of his or her own people while building the trust and cooperation of the other leader. There are a variety of economic, political and military actions a player can take (one per turn) and each one will please some part of the population, upset others.

PeaceMaker was developed by Impact Games, an international team composed of an American, originally from Brooklyn, and a former Captain in the Israeli Intelligence Corps. It was designed to be accessible to both gamers and non-gamers and offer greater insight into the Mid-East by allowing users to "Play the news, solve the puzzle." The game won the Games for Change "GaCha" Award for Best Transformation Game this past June.

Each game is downloadable pay-for-play, costs around US $20, give or take a nickel, and has a demonstration version available that's long enough to give a person a sense of the complexity of the respective game.

Each game is also very difficult, as players are forced to confront the true costs of victory -- if victory is even possible -- and to undertake a good deal of trial and effort to avoid making things worse. What both games do brilliantly is to illustrate that, while history is told by the winner, there are heartbreaking stories and losers on all sides; that peace is hard; and that war is harder. PeaceMaker made some of my more jaded colleagues cry.

Both games will take you hours to play, but if you're pressed for time, "The War Prayer" will take you less than five minutes to read. And if you can spare fifteen minutes, you can watch and listen to this short film version, which has simple but effective animations and includes some excellent voice talent, including famed American beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Even though I've known every word of "The War Prayer" since childhood, the film had the impact of reading it for the first time.

Image credit: flickr/ruminatrix

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Thank you for the link to The War Prayer, I had never heard of it before and found it most illuminating.

It makes it so clear how abstract thinking and decision making can be removed from the consequences of our actions.

Posted by: Joshua Vial on 24 Sep 07



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