Saturday, February 21, 2009


My husband does not like video and computer games.  He does not like how they seem to have stolen his son (now my step son)  from him, he does not understand the hours and hours his son can sit in front of a computer screen, utterly absorbed, clicking and clicking at something his dad does not understand.  He thinks video and computer games are partly responsible for the lackluster performance his son has had in high school.  

He is right to be concerned, but I have also tried to get him to look at the games in a different way, to enter into the games such that he understands the attraction.  Keep your enemies close, I say to him.  I have not been successful.  Although he will come in my study and peek over my shoulder during my nightly hour of playing, I cannot get him to play a character himself in WoW, even though I have created a male warrior character called Teake, which I sometimes play. In a future post I want to write about what it feels like to play a male atavar, but not today.  

The other night, after our evening crossword puzzle, I could see he was in a generally happy mood, so I asked if he'd play a  "little bit" of the game "Peacemaker" with me.  Peacemaker is  a game designed by Israelis, Palestinians and Americans based on real life events that simulate the tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Teake is, in real life, a journalist, and a Dutch citizen and is extremely interested in world affairs. 

In this game you have to choose between being the leader of the Palestinians or the Israelis, or you can let the computer choose for you. Since we had to share power (you can't play against a human player in the game), and since we could not agree on who we wanted to play, we let the computer choose for us:  the Palestinian leader.  

There are lots of things I could report to you about playing this game:  I could report to you, for example,  that there are not enough options in the game and  that it seems an impossible game to solve, and that these things probably reflect the way things are in real life. I could tell you that the graphics were not very interesting, but that the text was, and that one could learn a lot about the history of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict by playing the game, and these things are all true.  

But for me, what was most interesting was the dynamic that developed between Teake and me as we shared leadership and made decisions about what to do as the leader of the Palestinians. The first thing that became clear was that we could not agree on how to lead. Every time something happened that demanded a response (a suicide bomber, Israeli attack, etc.) Teake wanted to do one thing and I wanted to do something completely different. I don't know that there was a pattern early in the game--sometimes I wanted to build things to make our infrastructure better, sometimes he was the one wanting to build.  Sometimes I wanted to make a speech to the world and sometimes he was the one wanting to make a speech to the world.  All of the projects we wanted to do cost money, however, and we constantly ran into problems trying to get world leaders to loan us money for our various projects.  

We decided to take turns deciding how to respond, although each time we criticized the other's decisions.  I think we were trying to do what westerners would consider the "right" thing, but it seemed that everything we did was criticized by one faction or another, and our approval rating internally and with the international community continued to plummet as we kept trying to do the "right" thing:  help the poor, relocate refugees to better places, build better educational systems, appeal to the international community, etc.  We had avoided any escalation of violence, to no avail.  After an hour of play, we were losing big time.  "Losing" involves reaching a certain level of unhappiness with both the internal and the world community as reflected in real numbers.

Teake, I should mention, hates to lose.  

"Let's just start blowing things up," he finally says when it seems that none of our good-nik solutions are getting anywhere.  

Needless to say, we lost.  

We did come away from the game with some sense of how incredibly hard it is to govern and to share governance in such a volatile part of the world, although we sort of knew that already.   I don't know if Teake will want to play the game with me again or not.   I know, from playing other games, that there must be a strategy that lets you win, that we just have to figure it out. 

But I don't think Teake will want to do what I know we'll have to do again and again in order to win: lose and lose and lose and lose.


  1. Great reflection Sheryl...I like the idea of losing in ordier to win...and sadly most of the people that live in these war zones aren't working together to solve the conflict, instead they perpetuate it. They lose everything and if our mothers were being killed or if our houses were being bombed, would we want to talk about it? or try to solve the issue? We didn't do that for 9/11 and innocent Iraqi's are still suffering because of it. However, games like this (and others)are interesting in that it allows non-palestinians and non-isrealis to have an inside view of what is "really" happening. It is spreading awareness that will hopefully get people to actively respond to solve this conflict, together.

  2. It's funny how much video games can reinforce life skills, like failing in order to succeed. If only everyone could transfer those skills to reality, and not feel ashamed of their failings. We are trained to be proud of our successes, but it's difficult to appreciate pitfalls in the real world the way we do in virtual worlds.

  3. This seems good for the video game industry- the parents who find that they are too violent, or too addictive can have hope that there can be something real going on behind those controls, something much more than any after school activity, something that is necessary in order to bring a diverse world together, if only for a moment in a mind.

  4. I am really intrigued by the idea of losing again and again and again in order to learn how to win. I wonder how much we have to do that in real life. And I wonder if we can afford to do that, to experiment with different approaches to government while thousands of lives are depending on the outcomes of our decisions. I thought it was really interesting that "losing" was based on the opinions of others and their rating of your decisions. It makes sense to me in context of the game, but I wonder how much of other people's opinions determine whether we're "winning" or "losing." If we're doing the "right" thing, should it matter? Hmm, lots to think about...

  5. Hi Sheryl, it's Raf, I happened to find your blog when I was searching for Papa's website on Google. I have to say I laughed a lot when I read the part about Papa saying to "just blow stuff up" because I could totally picture him reacting that way!