Computer game takes ‘journalist’s’ view of Mideast

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — A computer game developed in Denmark is about to give high school students outside the Middle East a new window into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Global Conflicts: Palestine”, by Serious Games Interactive, will enable players to become virtual journalists moving through Israel and the Palestinian territories, where they can interview characters from both sides — civilians, soldiers and fighters. Once players decide they have enough information, they write articles relating to the conflict, which are then graded by the computer game.

“The goal for them is to recognise there are different perspectives, that the story can be also be told in different perspectives,” one of the game’s creators, Cophenhagen-based Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, said in a telephone interview.

He said he hopes to distribute the game to high schools in Europe in March and perhaps take it worldwide. At the start of the game, players choose one of six scenarios taken from years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, such as suicide bombings, Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza and tensions at Israeli army checkpoints.

The virtual reporter does not have to try to be objective.

Players can choose to become a pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian or neutral journalist as they navigate the scenes and “click” on characters.

Characters have pre-programmed answers, based on the journalist’s questions and declared sympathies.

A Palestinian fighter, for example, would volunteer more information to a declared pro-Palestinian journalist than to an Israeli reporter.

“You can steer the dialogue in the direction you want,” Egenfeldt-Nielsen said. “For a pro-Israeli story, focus on how the IDF [Israeli military] perceives it. If you take a pro-Palestinian approach, you can dig deeper—interview the suspect or his son.” The articles that players write receive scores based on the programme’s assessment of the value of the information and quotes they gleaned.

“The scores are dependent on to what extent you are successful in writing stories on the right angle,” Egenfeldt-Nielsen said. “If you are pro-Palestinian and you end up writing what we think is a pro-Israeli story, you get a worse score.” The game has been tested among hundreds of high school students in Denmark. It will be translated into five languages.

Many computer games centred on the Middle East have been launched in the past 15 years, most involving violence.

A 1990 simulation game by Virgin Interactive called “Conflict in the Middle East” allowed you to be prime minister of Israel and fend off potential strikes by Muslim nations, such as Iran, through diplomacy or even a nuclear attack.

The new Danish game doesn’t deal with victory or defeat.

“There’s no winning with regard to this conflict,” Egenfeldt-Nielsen said.

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