PeaceMaker: Design Assumptions

Tim Sweeney, our lead game designer and one of the first members of the team wanted to shed some light on our core design assumptions. I am sharing his write-up with you:

“In the course of making PeaceMaker, it was necessary to make certain assumptions and statements about things that are not really known in order to bring the game into being. We admit that these core assumptions are debatable issues, and we encourage exploration of them. However, they are not significantly questioned or challenged within the scope of playing PeaceMaker itself. Much as an artistic work claims a certain license to choose what it says about the world we live in, we claim this license in making this game. We feel it is a positive message we are sending, and should we second-guess these assumptions we risk our message not being heard, or having the wrong message sent entirely.

We stand by these following assumptions and do not consider them biased towards one particular side or the other, but rather biased on the side of peace in general.

Two-State Solution
The end, “winning condition” of the PeaceMaker simulation is the two-state solution. This may sound controversial to some, but is the consensus of a majority of those that desire a peaceful solution, and is the aim of past peace talks, UN resolutions, and the USA-backed “road map.” Even though we end the scope of our game there, however, that does not mean that every problem and every concern has been addressed, or that the violence has completely stopped. We simply must choose a limit to the scope of the simulation. We welcome other views and encourage discussion about the validity of that solution. We believe that regardless of this assumption, a lot of the insights that can come from our experience will be beneficial for reaching any resolution.

You can make a difference!
Sometimes it is said that the conflict is eternal, and can never be resolved. Or that a single minister or president can’t do anything to affect the conflict in any regard. We disagree. The impact of one person’s resolve, especially a powerful figure such as we let our players pretend to be, cannot be dismissed. While our players cannot simply end the conflict with the wave of their hands, they can make a difference and simulate real progress (or regress, if the player fails).

The other side wants peace too
The true motives of the other side are constantly called into question. Some insist that many Palestinians would not be content until the Israeli state ceases to exist. Others claim that many Israelis believe that Gaza and the West Bank rightfully belong to the state of Israel. It is the case that certain individuals may hold these views, and the player will have to deal with them in the course of the game, but we assume these views are not shared by the entire populations. We believe that a majority of people want a sustainable, fair peace.

You lack complete control of your own side
Continuing from the above topic, the player does not represent the entire, monolithic “side.” They do not have direct control of everything. They have to work with limitations, attempting to gain support so that they can make bold moves, and there are also independent simulated actors who are going to cause disruption through their actions no matter what. The player is not in control for everything their “side” does, though they do have to take some responsibility, as they will be blamed even if it wasn’t their decision.

Small concrete steps, not grandiose plans
PeaceMaker is a game about small actions leading to a gradual solution. It’s about observing the range of week-to-week actions and concrete steps possible. Other events will happen at the same time, changing the situation on the ground. It is not a game about hammering out detailed negotiations about the specifics of border lines, tax rates, and timelines. Such frameworks are admirable, but are always going to be imperfect, and be disrupted by action or lack of action. We believe that forward progress is a better thing to demonstrate than a fragile and complicated plan.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the possible”
Not only is there a balance in the gameplay, but there is also a balance involved in making the game. We cannot make a perfect, detailed, realistic simulation — it would be completely inaccessible to all but a handful of people. We can also not make a fun, exciting game in the traditional sense of video games — it would trivialize the conflict and be a step backwards. PeaceMaker, we believe, is a fair compromise that moves us in the right direction. This is the same lesson we hope players find through playing our game.”

Macintosh Support

Stephen Kopels has asked us:

Hi, I have been following your progress for many months now and I’m very excited that you have a release date coming soon. I just wanted to know if you have design the program to also be used on a Mac platform… I hope so because my school is all Mac…

We are getting many emails from Mac users who would like to see PeaceMaker running on their machines. I just wanted to let you know that we are making all efforts to produce a Mac version for our upcoming release. The game runs on Java which helps the cause. Eric and Joe are avid Mac users, and it seems that the same is true for a large portion of our audience.

Can You Be A PeaceMaker?

As we approach our release, we created a new video trailer and published it on YouTube:

It was a challenging task, digging through the archives of ITN and Reuters and finding rare footage of the conflict from 1920 until today. As always, we tried to keep the balance between the two sides, working with Israelis and Palestinians on the details. We will let you judge for yourselves and we welcome your comments. Decades of hostility, hatred, warfare and destruction- can you be a PeaceMaker?

Thanking The Community

We had the honor of being on a panel associated with the Gandhi Institutes 100 year anniversary of Mahatma’s first public commitment to non-violent resistance ( 9/11/1906 ). It was an amazing event attended by a variety of people. Arun Gandhi, Mahatma’s grandson, and founder of the institute witnessed our efforts and offered us this quote in endorsement of what we are trying to do:

Since the time I spent with my Grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, I have had the opportunity to observe many efforts by individuals from many countries to promote peace. In my opinion Peacemaker is ground breaking in both its conception and execution. This exceptionally creative and relevant video game will further concepts of conflict resolution and peacemaking and bring important new audiences into the fold. Congratulations to the Peacemaker team!

Arun Gandhi, Founder, MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence

It is humbling to think that our efforts are being recognized by people representing groups that we respect for the work they are doing. I am choosing to respond to this and post it not only because it is a great quote but because it is a glimpse into the types of moments that keep us motivated. One of the driving forces behind pushing ahead with this project and starting our company was the interest and support of all different types of people from around the world. On a day when you are having doubts it is invaluable to receive an email like the following:

“I’d just like to express my gratitude for you doing this kind of video-game. It’s really exactly what you need to make people understand the situation in the Middle East from a totally new perspective – in a objective and neutral way. Both in the entire world, and especially the two involved countries themselves. Fantastic job, KEEP IT UP!!! :) It really made me happy to see your passion for this subject.”

I just grabbed this one randomly, but it represents the tone of many of the inquiries. I just want to thank everyone who has written to us giving us motivation and support in what we are doing.

PeaceMaker Hits Alpha

Another crunch time is gone as we hit our commercial Alpha version on Monday (Dec 4th). For those of you who saw or read about our old prototype, some major changes were introduced since then: we migrated from Flash to Java, we enhanced our licensed content significantly (news footage, images and text) and introduced some new design ideas based on players’ feedback. As an example, the rendered map of the region is currently location-based with 20 different cities representing the two sides.

The next milestone is obviously Beta. FYI we have decided to run controlled and focused tests locally rather than distribute copies. For those of you who kindly volunteered to help – if you happen to be in the Pittsburgh area please let us know.

Mailing List Update

Yesterday we sent an update to our mailing list (1200+ subscribers), introducing our online survey and mentioning our future presentation at the Sundance Film Festival (January 20th, Park City). The exciting opportunity was initiated by Games for Change. If you haven’t, you might want to check them out or subscribe to their discussion list which covers many similar initiatives in the field of social and political games. I also know they are expanding and looking for some new managers.