There are a lot of things I want to blog about in the next few days; the Kosovo final status talks, the impending trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, and the recent disagreement between ICTY Prosecutor Carla del Ponte and EU officials. But right now, I want to tell you about a very cool-sounding video game that just came out.

It’s called PeaceMaker, and it is a game that allows you to play Israeli or Palestinian politicians trying to solve (or not solve) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and create peace (or sow chaos) in the Middle East. It’s gotten rave reviews from the New York Times, Haaretz, and many gamer magazines, and, from the trailer, it looks like it will be awesome to play.

I’m going to see if I can use my AID credentials to get a free copy (it costs $20 to download), and, if I’m successful, I’ll post a full review. Heck, if it’s really good, AID might even decide to use it for future iniatives.

From the New York Times:

LAST week, in an effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, I
withdrew settlements in the Gaza Strip. But then a suicide bomber
struck in Jerusalem, the P.L.O. leader called my actions
”condescending,” and the Knesset demanded a stern response. Desperate
to retain control, I launched a missile strike against Hamas militants.

I was playing Peacemaker, a video game in which players assume
the role of either the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian
president. Will you pull down the containment wall? Will you beg the
United States to pressure your enemy? You make the calls and live with
the results the computer generates. Just as in real life, actions that
please one side tend to anger the other, making a resolution fiendishly
tricky. You can play it over again and again until you get it right, or
until the entire region explodes in violence.

”When they hear
about Peacemaker, people sometimes go, ‘What? A computer game about the
Middle East?’ ” admits Asi Burak, the Israeli-born graduate student
who developed it with a team at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh. ”But people get very engaged. They really try very hard to
get a solution. Even after one hour or two hours, they’d come to me and
say, you know, I know more about the conflict than when I’ve read
newspapers for 10 years.”

Video games have long entertained
users by immersing them in fantasy worlds full of dragons or
spaceships. But Peacemaker is part of a new generation: games that
immerse people in the real world, full of real-time political crises.
And the games’ designers aren’t just selling a voyeuristic thrill.
Games, they argue, can be more than just mindless fun, they can be a
medium for change.

And PeaceMaker is only the most recent game based on real-life international issues. Food Force, a game produced by the World Food Program, allows players to respond to a humanitarian crisis on Sheylan, a fictional island in the Indian Ocean. In MTV’s game Darfur is Dying, players play Darfur refugees struggling to find food and shelter. The latter game is nearly impossible to "win" and I suspect that was the intention of the designers. It makes a not-so-subtle point about the severity of the disaster in Darfur.

UPDATE: The WONDERFUL people at Impact Games have allowed me to download PeaceMaker for free. They are a smart and generous bunch. I’ll be blogging more about the game in the coming weeks, when I have my next bunch of papers done, and I actually have time to play it.