Design Assumptions (repost)

Now that the game is out I’d like to repost Tim Sweeney’s write-up about our design assumptions. Comments are welcome:

“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 “light” 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.”

6 thoughts on “Design Assumptions (repost)

  1. Concerning the assumptions that the other side walso wants peace and that the outcome is a two states solution:

    The assumption is problematic because often the challenge is knowing what model to apply to a crisis: the spiral or deterrence model. In the first model, players are in a security dilemma and the solution is deescalation; but in the second model, deterrence is the best option because the other player does not want to deescalate. The difficulty is knowing in what situation you are in, because each model prescribes something that would make matters worse if you are in fact in the other situation.

    Because of the assumption that both sides want peace, it is clear that the leaders are in a security dilemma, and the most sensible course of action is reassurance and deescalation, while not retaliating (or retaliating selectively) following attacks by rogue elements from the other side. However, if in fact the other side does not want peace, not retaliating will only encourage, strengthen and embolden them. Therefore, the assumption is unrealistic and skewed towards the application of one model over the other, thus skipping what is often the central challenge for decision makers.

    [Alternatively, one could argue that in game theoretic terms the best course of action is tit-for-tat since both players seem to be locked in a prisoner’s dilemma. (Naturally, the prisonner’s dilemma is also the basis of the security dilemma.) However tit-for-tat assumes that actors are rational and unitary, which does not fit with the assumption that one does not have complete control over one’s own side.]

    The assumption about the two states solution is also problematic because it assumes that the situation is not a zero-sum game; together with the assumption that both sides want peace, this leads by necessity to cooperation as the preferable outcome. In fact, this is so true that it is tautological. Of course, often the problem for decision-makers is to ascertain whether the other side also sees the world in absolute terms rather than relative terms (that is, whether they believe that they are in a zero-sum game or not). Thus, we’Re back to the problem of deciding whether the spiral or deterrence model applies.

    It would therefore seem that the game evacuates much of what makes the problem so difficult to solve in the real world.

  2. @Blazer
    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis. Rather than argue, I would like to add a few elements to the equation of A versus B. I feel that these core issues (and others) make this conflict different than the traditional models (such as a cold-war scenario) and thus so hard to resolve.

    1) Although we believe that both sides want “peace”, their definition of peace is very different. Many believe the Israelis view peace as non-violence and security, while the Palestinians view it as a fair and just solution to their suffering, the continuous occupation and their expulsion. That in itself is a gap that makes cooperation so difficult and thus keeps your decision makers’ challenge intact.

    2) The IP conflict is asymmetric in its nature. One of the main challenges is building leadership and control on the Palestinian side. In a society on the verge of a civil war, with no real sovereignty, many would argue that the traditional models are not even applicable as the Palestinian leader can’t really deescalate or create an effective deterrence. So when we define that “the Palestinian side wants peace”, the real dilemma or unanswered question for the other side is really- “can the Palestinian side in its current form execute a peace agenda”?

    3) Both societies are highly divided. We are not dealing with a central government that has to deal with a minority of “rogue elements” but almost a schizophrenic society. What is the face of the Palestinians? Fatah who negotiated with Israel and acknowledged a peaceful two-state solution or Hamas that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist? And in Israel- is it the face of Rabin who signed the Oslo agreement or Netanyahu who opposes negotiating with the current Palestinian government? What makes it even harder is the instability of these authorities and their inability to execute long-term plans or even maintain a full term in office.

    So, to conclude, although we assume that both sides want peace and that the two-state solution is the end-goal, we believe that the core questions and challenges are still open due to the complexity of the situation. I would welcome you to play the demo or the full game and to experience how this is applied in (virtual) reality.

  3. Pingback: ScreenBurn 2008 » Blog Archive » Can A Video Game Facilitate Peace in the Middle East?

  4. Assumption that both sides want “peace” is a big one.

    The Jabotinsky manifesto remains a Likud value inherited from Irgun which says West Bank (Samaria) has to be part of the Israeli State. Any of you who remember your New Testament lessons know very well that Judeans hated Samaritans if any of that story is true, so why now do they want to include that territory as theirs? Israel and the US need to refute this manifesto hidden from voters eyes.

    Ze’ev Jabotinsky writing in Russia in the 1920s likened 1600-1800s Europeans who conquered North America and disenfranchised or genocided Indigenous Native Americans as Noble. His whole idea is that the Zionist solution means an “iron ring” around Palestinians, which doesn’t sound too promising, Palestinians who had nothing to do with this except be occupied by “Christian” Britain after 1918 collapse of Ottoman Empire.

    You need to rethink this simplistic assumption.

    And the the Israeli side, with US private and public backing had better come clean about what “peace” means, and what the US media tells majority of well-meaning pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-two state solution US citizens underwriting this whole thing that “peace” means in this conflict.

    There is a lot of duplicity and double-sided mouth talking here from every government involved, especially Washington which has used the situation to its own advantage since losing Iran as the greatest Middle-East ally and oil supplier in 1979, and US Congress and Media plays a very bad part in the obfuscation system.

    The game may be right that a two-state solution is the only solution, but all the real states involved pretend that that has not been the case. Especially today now they’re quoting texts about Amalekites. Pathetic!

  5. I agree that it may be controversial to present a two-state solution as the only winning scenario, and also that both sides want peace (whatever that may mean exactly). But since this a pacifistic game made by people who obviously strive to make a positive difference by promoting mutual understanding, these assumptions are the only ones they could logically make.

    Consider the alternatives to a two-state solution: In the long run, one of the sides would have to assimilate or exterminate the other. With all the violent and genocidal consequences it implies, this is not a peaceful scenario at all. And assuming that at least one of the sides did not actually want peace, well that would amount to a stalemate at best – which would be quite close to the current situation and thus no progress but stagnation – or, in the worst case, an all-out war.

    So again, if you are someone who truly wants to promote a step-by-step approach to peace for the region, which I deem the creators to be, there really is no other assumption you can possibly logically make – or at least I am not seeing it.

    I salute the makers of this game for their pacifistic vision and their willingness to delve into a very complicated and hotly discussed subject. They could have produced just another meaningless good-vs-evil combat game, but they didn’t and the world is better for it.