Peacemaker (2008) is a computer game produced by ImpactGames, in which players seek to bring about a successful negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the guest blogpost below, Dr. Ronit Kampf (Tel Aviv University) and Dr. Esra Cuhadar Gurkanyak (Bilkent University) examine the impact of the game on the attitudes of Israeli, Palestinian, Turkish, and American students, and find it to be” an effective teaching tool concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for both parties to the conflict and third parties.” For further information on their research and findings, also see their conference paper here.
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We examined the effectiveness and usefulness of technology as a pedagogical tool in teaching conflict resolution. There is very little research on this question and none of the assessments involved a cross-cultural experimental study. We conducted a cross cultural experiment in four different national groups (i.e., Jewish-Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and Turks) using PeaceMaker, a computer game simulating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We were specifically interested in the following questions: Does the game affect participants’ acquisition of knowledge about the conflict? Does the game contribute to attitude change regarding the conflict? Are there any differences in terms of knowledge acquisition and attitude change between participants that are direct parties to the conflict (i.e., Jewish-Israelis and Palestinians) and those that are third parties (i.e., Americans and Turks)?
In PeaceMaker, a player can assume the role of the Israeli Prime Minister or the role of the Palestinian President and engage in a series of decisions with the aim of satisfying constituents on both sides of the conflict. The game can be played in English, Hebrew or Arabic on calm, tense or violent conflict levels, differing in the frequency of events that appear on the screen and are beyond the player’s control. In order to deal with these events a player can select actions pertaining to three main categories: security, political and construction, each branching into a variety of sub-categories (e.g., checkpoints, speeches). In order to resolve the conflict in the game, scores for both Israeli and Palestinian sides must reach 100 points each. If either score drops below -50, the player loses the game.
167 undergraduate students of political science participated in the study, including 38 Turkish students from Bilkent University, 50 Jewish-Israeli students from Tel Aviv University, 39 American students from the School for Overseas Students at Tel Aviv University and 40 Palestinian students from Bethlehem University.
After being introduced to PeaceMaker, the participants filled in a short questionnaire focusing on knowledge questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and attitudes toward the conflict. The students were then asked to play the role of the Israeli Prime Minister and the role of the Palestinian President in random order. After playing the game twice, participants filled in a second short questionnaire, almost identical in content to the first questionnaire with the exception of a few additional questions regarding participants’ experience with the game.
Resolving the conflict in the game
Overall 33% of the participants resolved the conflict in one role and 11% of the participants resolved the conflict in both roles. In the Israeli role, 8% of Turkish participants resolved the conflict, 21% of American participants resolved it, 32% of Israeli participants of Jewish origin resolved it and 40% of Palestinian participants resolved it. In the Palestinian role, 30% of Turkish participants resolved the conflict, 23% of American participants resolved it, 34% of Israeli participants of Jewish origin resolved it and 40% of Palestinian participants resolved it.
3% of Turkish participants resolved the conflict in both roles, 10% of American participants resolved it in both roles, 16% of Israeli participants of Jewish origin resolved it in both roles and 15% of Palestinian participants resolved the conflict in both roles.
Explaining conflict resolution in the game
In both roles, participants that were more knowledgeable on the conflict successfully resolved the conflict, while those that were less knowledgeable were not as successful. Thus, in line with our expectations, participants that are direct parties to the conflict (Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli) resolved the conflict more successfully in all situations compared to the third parties (Turkish and American).
Political attitudes, the order of playing the Israeli role and the Palestinian role (which one is played first), gender, religious affiliation, average number of weekly hours playing computer games and average number of weekly hours spent online did not explain successful resolution of the conflict in the game for the Israeli role and for the Palestinian role.
PeaceMaker aims at a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, envisioning Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. Therefore, we examined whether support of a two-state solution explained resolving the conflict in the game. Results suggested that support of a two state solution did not explain resolving the conflict in the game for both Israeli and Palestinian roles. In other words, participants opposing a two state solution resolved the conflict in the game no less than those supporting it. 55% of the Jewish-Israelis, 40% of the Americans, 35% of the Palestinians, and 32% of the Turks that played the game supported the two-state solution.
Action type in the game
We examined whether the four groups (Jewish-Israeli, Palestinian, Turkish and American) differed in the action type they took in the game (Security, Political or Construction), separately for the Israeli role and for the Palestinian role.
The only significant result was obtained for security actions in the Palestinian role. Jewish-Israelis took the highest proportion of security actions, while Palestinians took the lowest proportion of security actions. The Turkish participants and the American participants took more security actions than Palestinians but less than Jewish-Israelis.
Game effects on attitude change
Turkish and American students became more impartial toward the Gaza operation (i.e., Israelis and Palestinians are equally right regarding the Gaza operation) after playing the game, while Jewish- Israeli and Palestinian students did not change their attitude toward the Gaza operation after playing the game. Jewish-Israeli students thought that Israelis are somewhat right regarding the Gaza operation, while Palestinian students thought that Palestinians are somewhat right regarding the Gaza operation. In addition, the four groups did not change their attitudes concerning key issues in the conflict (i.e., Jerusalem, water, security, refugees, settlements, borders) after playing the game.
In sum, the game had an effect on the attitudes of third party students only with regard to the Gaza operation. This may be because of differential familiarity of the issues especially for third parties. The Gaza operation was a recent event at the time of the study which received extensive media coverage and public debate as opposed to other issues. Participants, considering their age, might be more familiar with this issue and therefore the game has a limited impact on attitude change.
Game effects on knowledge acquisition
All participants acquired more knowledge on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a result of playing the game. After playing the game, American participants acquired more knowledge on the conflict compared to Turkish, Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian participants, but the latter two groups already held in the beginning high levels of knowledge on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, so did not have much more to gain.
In sum, although the game increased the level of knowledge for all groups significantly, the effect was again stronger for the third parties to the conflict. Overall, the game was an effective teaching tool concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for both parties to the conflict and third parties. Even with the Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian participants that are already knowledgeable about the conflict, it had a positive effect. Despite the limited effect on changing attitudes, increased knowledge acquisition by itself is an important outcome considering our earlier finding which suggests that the level of knowledge is highly correlated with the ability to successfully resolve the conflict. PeaceMaker is a teaching tool that is useful to introduce conflict assessment and resolution skills in a sophisticated and context rich simulation.
Esra Cuhadar Gurkanyak