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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Review: Peacemaker


Impact Games' Peacemaker is extraordinary. It's a framework for discovery and an impetus for investigation. Peacemaker will place a lasting impression on your psyche. Our odd minds are configured with the potential to evoke the sensation of empathy: whereby sympathy and understanding can be conferred by the imaginative process of placing oneself into the situation of another. Impact Games have seemingly developed Peacemaker with empathy as a central tenet. In Peacemaker, you'll be granted a startling synthesis of the subjective and objective. You'll be posited with the perspective of either the Israeli Prime Minister or Palestinian President in what initially appears to be an adversarial relationship with one another. Empathy will flow from the source of subjectivity and your sympathy will be bestowed on 'your people' - those closest to you in heritage and homestead and not necessarily in personal policy for peace. Overcoming the wants and needs of some of your people - the patriotic yet punitive, those influential and ignoble - this is the real challenge of Peacemaker.

Peacemaker
's strength is perhaps its very existence as a game. Games allow for a great deal of flexibility for their players' methods in approaching a problem and devising a solution. In Peacemaker, you'll be both pupil and teacher. The game has a clear message to learn, yet each player will leave Peacemaker with an understanding that is unique to themselves. The concept of saving and reloading (foreign to other media), empowers the player of games to effectively learn through trial and error with allayed fears of 'making the wrong move', thus experimentation is encouraged.

In Peacemaker, the solution to peace between Israelis and Palestinians is realised through a recognition that it is in both states' best interests to cease the conflict. The actions and words of each leader have ramifications beyond the locality of their deliverance. Pronouncing a speech of mutual cooperation with the Palestinians may unnerve a tense and security-concious Israeli parliament, yet the Palestinian leader may hear these same words and feel encouraged to reign in militants and resume negotiations with a newly empathic Israeli Prime Minister. Cleverly, Impact Games have simulated both leaders' inability for total control over their populace. People are not automatons, they'll act in their own interests and potentially counteract the inertia of their leader. Impact Games have astonishingly simplified this complex social phenomena, refining it into a system of 'Hopes' and 'Fears' which are clearly presented to the advantage of the player.

There's a wealth of incidental information to assimilate.

If you devote an evening to Peacemaker, you'll likely 'complete' the game as both sides. I'd like to believe that Impact Games intended Peacemaker as a demonstration for what games can achieve, yet I'm dismayed because Peacemaker isn't a particularly good game. Insulting though it may be, Peacemaker's gameplay could be compiled into a comparatively brief string of 'if-then' directives. Newsworthy events are too few in number, leading to an immersion-shattering repetition in a major and gameplay-critical portion of the game: the effect of your citizens' actions upon public opinion. When I've read the same news story about trees being vandalised on Israeli settlers' land for the third time, I stop caring about the trees or the settlers. Once I'd played Peacemaker for a few hours, I had to resist the urge to blinker my perception of the game and view each action and event only in terms of what effect they had on public opinion. To do this would be to negate the positive humanitarian effect that I assume Impact Games intend to foster. Yet perhaps Impact Games should have been more cynical of the gnarled gaming enthusiast's tendency to reduce life changing events such as the removal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and morph this into a clinical 'W00t! +12 approval'. Perhaps the solution to this anal gaming is for Impact Games' next project (and I sincerely hope there will be one) to remove any display of situation simplifying 'points', instead adopting a visual representation of the effect the player's persona's decisions have upon their people.

I found Peacemaker's soundtrack to be particularly uninspiring - a rather half-hearted accompaniment towards a two-state solution. Eventually, I overlaid Peacemaker with Enya, with satisfying results.

This notion of a two-state solution (in which the Israelis and Palestinians share Jerusalem as their capital and centre of government) is the final of four 'milestones' that the player must reach in order to win Peacemaker. Interestingly, Impact Games originally intended for the player to win the Nobel Peace Prize in place of their final milestone. This was not to be, as The Nobel Foundation refused Impact Games the right to use their award in the game. I'll be sending The Nobel Foundation an email requesting an explanation for why this decision was made, as I believe this shows a lack of respect for the aspirations of Peacemaker and for the games industry as a whole.

I've been deeply satisfied by the experience that Peacemaker has shared with me. Though its foibles are numerous, Peacemaker remains the gamer's synagogue and mosque of meaningful game design. Peacemaker professes lessons and offers sanctuary for thoughtful reflection. My advice: give peace a try - it's only a tenner.

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