Global Conflicts: Palestine Reader Review
I liken my experience of Global Conflicts: Palestine to the average Palestinian's right to freedom of movement within the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza: it's fractured and unreliable, yet impossible to give up on. I digitally downloaded my copy of GC:P from the Serious Games website, expecting an experience that would be more 'serious' than 'game', but thinking the price of twenty Euros a meager one considering that I'd be throwing a few crumbs to a small political fish in the main stream. I was surprised to discover a game that is challenging in three ways: to fickle human preconceptions, to intellectual and emotional disengagement, and to the calm temperament of those who expect a game to be finished before it's put on sale.
Character selection took a broom and rattled it around the recesses of my mind, clearing out cobwebs of comprehension and my assumptions about what defines someone as 'Palestinian', 'Israeli', or indeed 'Impartial'. The player can be represented by either a chap who identifies himself as having a Palestinian heritage or as an Israeli lady. Both characters share in common that they've lived most of their lives in America, they're both established journalists in their mid-thirtees, and they each have a personal interest in returning to a perceived homeland in the Middle East. Don't fret, choice of character doesn't affect much - the player will be thrust into the employ of a balding, bespectacled editor-man either way - and I suspect Serious Games' intention for character choice was to engage the player's imagination rather than to significantly affect the gameplay. The aim of each mission is to collect noteworthy quotes by engaging in conversation with local residents. The player's purpose being the piecing together of an appropriate article for one of three newspapers which each cater to a divergent demographic.
Errands are the currency of friendship, and the desert's denizens won't feel confident enough to confide in the player until their journalist has run a marathon - delivering messages and gifts throughout the domain - and, back in the real world, the player has begun to contemplate the risks of repetitive strain injury after countless clicks, unaided by an autorun. Coaxing a juicy quote out of an Abrahimic esophagus won't be easy even once you've successfully established an American Express franchise in Jerusalem: you'll need to maintain a polite veneer over your mighty pen before directing it towards a pointed question. My experience of GC:P has taught me that, by commencing dialogue with a query about my subject's health or about the status of their family, I'd find myself facing a much easier task and a more malleable interviewee. GC:P's citizens are fickle folk, and they'll quickly void their opinion of you from one day to the next, so you'll need to persuade them to like you all over again if you happen to want their opinion for the next story you write.
GC:P is a game about perspective. The player, as a freelance journalist, must consider the culture, daily life, attitudes, and expectations of the people they'll be interacting with, both individually and as a collective readership for each of the newspapers. A quote that I've collected may have a high news value (reflected by an on-screen display, frustratingly present only after the quote-collection section of the game is over), but if it's been sourced from an Israeli settler claiming a right to land because of the Palestinians' ineptitude to grow or build on it, then the quote is unlikely to generate interest amongst the editors of Palestine Today. I began the game thinking that I'd write for the international press in an effort to maintain impartiality as I strolled boldly between two decisively partisan communities. In actuality, I stumbled upon Hard Mode. Serious Games seem keen to stress an attitude of 'With us or against us' and they show this with their character's aversion to the international press: framed to be both biased and unconcerned with the humanity of the conflict. Intentional or not, I developed an opinion that writing for an Israeli or Palestinian paper would lead to wider recognition for my stories because the conflict is so intensely immediate to the people who live in the occupied territories that they couldn't become apathetic in the way that we 'Others' have the privilege of being able to.
If you wander from the café to the market in GC:P's Jerusalem, you'll be gifted with a bunch of bugs for free. People crossing the street will, for comic effect, adhere themselves to seemingly sticky sides of passing cars, and then proceed to thrash violently until another zombie-like pedestrian bumps them free. A quick flick through your notebook will result in a stuttering effect on the (criminally limited) sound samples of city life. You'll find that important people (who you'll frequently find standing on the pavement, staring at the traffic) won't talk to you - "Sorry, I'm too busy right now" - if you've already talked to them once during the mission. And may your god bless you if you'd like to ring the phone and complete the final mission, because it was impossible for me. I've done a fair bit of forum browsing in an effort to find a solution to this game-ruining bug and found two sources that attest to there being a patch to fix the problem next week ... unfortunately, both of the assertions were made in April and I can't find a link to the download. If there is a patch available then Serious Games shouldn't hide it away.
I've enjoyed playing Global Conflicts: Palestine, to the extent that I felt a pang of sorrow when the game abruptly ended on me without a proper conclusion. Yet, I can't recommend it to you unless you'd like to use the game as a teaching aid instead of for fun. There's a lot to be learned from the conversations you'll have with the well-developed characters of GC:P, and each mission begins with a helpful list of points to consider as you play. If Serious Games patch their creation to a level of reliable functionality then GC:P would be perfect for schools and I'm sure it would provide a wonderfully vivid teaching-aid for the classroom environment.