What! A game to solve the Middle East Conflict?

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This  was the first reaction when people heard about Asi Burak’s master thesis. Asi is the CEO of Power Play and the Chairman of Games for Change...

This  was the first reaction when people heard about Asi Burak’s master thesis. Asi is the CEO of Power Play and the Chairman of Games for Change.

Image a world where  video-games can tackle on social problems!  On May 8th, we attentively listened to Asi tell his story. He started his game adventure by designing and launching Peacemaker, a game where players  can choose to take the role of either the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President, react to in-game events, and interact with other political leaders and social groups to establish a stable resolution to the conflict. The goal of the game is to promote peace and have you wear the other one’s shoes.

Asi found it really interesting that a lot of people engaged in the challenge and were not doing so great in  bringing peace. “I now know more about the conflict than what I’ve read newspaper for years”, said people only after playing the game for two hours. Asi shared: “ It is difficult to see the big picture from news because individual events don’t give us the real context. We cannot see the wood for the trees.”

Developing empathy is one of the most profound objectives of the game Peacemaker. In the game, the Israel side has all the resources and it occupies territories, while the Palestinian side has limited resources and symbolizes independence. The players wear each side’s shoes. They also know that there is never one right way.

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After Peacemaker, Asi launched the Games for Change platform as one of the cofounders. Founded in 2004, Games for Change empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change using games and technology that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place.  His recent book, “Power Play, ”profiles trailblazers who believe in the power of  video games. He shared a few stories and we met these real life heros: Sandra Day O'Connor, a former Supreme Court. When she asked children what the three different branches of the government, they didn’t know. However, they could list the names of three judges at the American Idol show. Determined to make a difference and to tap into what kids pay attention to, she started iCivics, a nonprofit civics education group, in 2009. The group has since released over 19 free online games, along with accompanying lesson plans, with the idea of making civics education less about rote learning and more about giving middle school students an animated glimpse into how different branches of government and the Constitution work. Millions of students play iCivics games. Other trail blazers in the book are as colorful: a Saudi prince, Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, who are Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists,  a brain scientist and others.

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Virtual reality is the ultimate empathy enabler. Last year, the United Nations added a new tool to its fundraising arsenal: virtual reality. With the help of studio Vrse.works, it released Clouds Over Sidra, a mini-documentary following a 12-year-old Syrian refugee. You can watch it here. : https://www.dragons.org/clouds-over-sidra/

Next, Asi captured our imagination by suggesting that we may be prescribed games not medicine for healing and changes in the way our brain works in the near future. What’s next? Neuro – gaming. Neuro-gaming – uses brain-computer interfaces to play a game rather than traditional controllers and  may have the potential to improve patient health.  In clinical studies with U.S. army veterans, who are also burn victims, the subjects played a game in the 3D virtual world of SnowWorld and reported significantly less pain in play time. Neuro-gaming will arrive in our daily lives soon!

Last, Asi shared with us some of the projects he led in “e-sports,” and how people are now coming together to play video games as a sport – in stadiums, as teams and with sponsors. The love of gaming knows no boundaries.

At the end of the  learning circle, we asked for some book recommendations. For conflict resolution, a good book is “The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small” by Lisa Earle McLeod and “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World” by Adam Gazzaley for neuro gaming. 

We had a very interactive session and thank Asi Burak for spending time with us in his short visit from New York!

We thank BAU COOP for hosting us at the Bahcesehir University.


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