Fostering active citizenship and solidarity among all young people is one major objective for many European teachers. How can we use serious games in promoting the learning skills required for active citizenship and peace education?
The Open Education Studio raises a global conversation on a subject that is becoming increasingly relevant in a European context.
Our conversation starts with an article  by Ronit Kampf from Tel Aviv University, which shares the lessons learned from a peace education project using two role-playing computerized simulations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and involving undergraduate students from Turkey, Israel, Palestine and the United States.
Intractable inter-group conflicts are highly resistant to resolution, involve well-entrenched hostile perceptions of the out-group, drag on for an extended period of time, and are prone to escalation over and over again . In such conflicts, hostile attitudes and images of the enemy are passed on from one generation to the next with the learning of the conflict narratives embedded in various socialization agents. Conflict narratives often promote an ethnocentric view of past or present events and people on the two sides hardly communicate with each other directly .
Peace education is one of the key theories of change and practical tools that have been developed by conflict resolution and political psychology disciplines to change attitudes and reframe conflict narratives in order to resolve conflicts . Peace education often has the goals of reducing inter-group prejudice and negative stereotyping, promoting inter-group empathy and understanding, building trust, and creating awareness about the root causes of the conflict and about non-violence.
Promoting and facilitating inter-group contact and educating the participants on various aspects of conflicts and peace-building are among the common activities used in peace education initiatives in order to attain these goals .
The prevalence of the Internet in the last two decades has added a new dimension to peace education activities, and provided a new set of tools intended to reduce inter-group conflict. Web based role-playing games, computer chat rooms and social media began to be used as another potential venue to educate members of adversarial groups about one another. These new tools can be an alternative medium to accomplish the goals of peace education .
With the help of computer mediated games and forums it may be that people can learn to legitimate the other’s collective narrative and see events through both lenses; critically examine their in-group’s contribution to the conflict and challenge their perception of sole victimhood; and perhaps develop empathy in order to appreciate the other’s pain and loss and generate mutual humanization.
Two cross-cultural experiments were conducted to examine the use and effectiveness of technology in peace building education. They used PeaceMaker (PM) and Global Conflicts (GC), which are role-playing computerized simulations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The studies were specifically interested in the following question: Will there be differences in attitude change between the students playing one or the other game?
Attitude change is considered to be one of the most important outcomes in peace building activities as it is often regarded as the prerequisite of developing empathy toward the “other”. Compared to traditional methods (e.g., face-to-face encounters), digital methods such as GC and PM were found to be more successful as tools for teaching about the “other” for youth, particularly in conflict contexts, because playful activities can reduce the tension and charged atmosphere around this issue .
In addition, play is naturally conducive to learning, focusing on learning by doing and learning by experiencing, which were found preferable as inter-group intervention methods . Finally, young people are native to the online world, so they speak the digital language fluently . Hence, young people may prefer new media technologies as a source of information about political issues, and consume online content more efficiently .
The two studies were conducted with Israeli-Jewish, Palestinian, American, and Turkish undergraduate students, assessing the effectiveness of the games by differentiating between direct parties to the conflict (i.e., Israeli-Jews and Palestinians) and secondary/third parties (i.e., Turks and Americans), an issue that has hardly been examined in the context of intractable conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The studies expect that game effects with regard to attitude change will be stronger for secondary/third parties as opposed to directly involved parties.
Attitude change can occur through cognitive, affective, or behavioural processes, with not all three required at the same time . Until recently, research on attitude change has focused more on cognitive processes such as the link between attitude consistency and attitude change . An important finding has been that people holding more extreme attitudes (e.g., direct parties to the conflict) are more likely to resist change through social influence . When attitudes are linked to self-defining values and reference groups, which is often the case in intractable conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, they are very resistant to change. Therefore, secondary/third parties may have less salient and weaker attitudes concerning the conflict, as opposed to directly involved parties who have more salient attitudes that are more resistant to change .
The PeaceMaker game
PM is a computer game inspired by historical real-world events. A player can assume the role of the Israeli Prime Minister or of the Palestinian President and take various decisions with the aim of satisfying Israeli and Palestinian constituents.
PM is developed by ImpactGames in the US with the help of advisors in Israel, Palestine and the US. PM can be played in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. The player can select between calm, tense, or violent conflict levels, differing in the frequency of events that appear on the screen and are beyond his or her 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 subcategories such as checkpoints and speeches. Players accumulate points for both sides according to the actions taken in the game. The scores, calculated by a function within the game, are related to polls registering the level of satisfaction of different nations, of political groups within the country and around the world in response to the leader’s actions. 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. Changes in the scores were determined by the developers, based on a series of tests carried out with international experts.
The Global Conflicts game
GC is an award-winning educational game developed by Serious Games Interactive in Denmark . The game environment is based on real-life accounts reported to human rights organizations and news agencies by victims and witnesses, as well as various other sources.
The game consists of several different scenarios, each putting the player in a different context and requiring the employment of different skills. This study selected the one about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, illustrating the tensions between the two sides in a checkpoint scenario. The player is represented by the avatar of a Western reporter who arrives in Jerusalem. Her task is to write for one of the following newspapers: Israeli, Palestinian or Western. The player is expected to produce a news report geared to the audience of one of these newspapers based on the interviews she conducts with various characters at the checkpoint. At the end of the game, the player chooses some of the quotes she collected throughout the interviews, including them in her final news report on which she is evaluated. This evaluation indicates whether the report is placed in the front pages of the newspaper or in the back, whether the quotes reflect important pieces of information about the conflict, and whether these quotes are a good fit for the newspaper selected for the assignment. The player is challenged to keep her work objective while gathering important information to be used in the news report. In the meantime, the player experiences the developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and learns about the issues that are important to this conflict. The student has to form an opinion based upon her own actions and after meeting characters that represent different attitudes towards the conflict, despite the fact that she writes for a specific newspaper.
The results are promising, albeit requiring further assessment. First, participants playing GC acquired a more impartial perspective toward the Gaza operation in 2012, unlike those playing PM. In addition, participants playing the GC game shifted from ethnocentric attitudes towards a more impartial attitude regarding long lasting historical issues in the conflict, unlike those playing the PM game.
A few explanations can be suggested for the different learning outcomes of the two games, which require further research in the future.
First, GC provides a more personal and human perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian situation than PM. Therefore, young players may find it easier to identify and empathize with, resulting in more positive impact on attitude change. In addition, GC may be a more immersive game environment than PM, resulting in more positive effects on attitude change .
Another possible explanation can be suggested for the different learning outcomes of the two games with regard to attitude change. Participants playing PM may have stronger attitudes about the conflict than those playing GC. The studies were conducted shortly after the Gaza operation in 2012, an event that received extensive media attention and public debate. The data on participants in the GC study were collected after the data on participants in the PM study. Therefore, the latter may have more salient attitudes about the conflict than the former, and research on attitude strength suggests that salient attitudes are more resistant to change and lead to selective cognitive processing . Furthermore, when one’s attitude is linked to one’s ‘self’ concept or value system, the attitude is more resilient to change . In the future, it would be interesting to compare the short-term and long-term impacts of game interventions on attitudes and behaviors, particularly since the number of studies on long-term effects of peace workshops in protracted conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian situation is extremely limited .
Results suggested stronger effects for secondary/third parties compared to directly involved parties. Although all participants playing the GC game acquired a more impartial perspective toward long lasting historical issues in the conflict, the effect was stronger for the secondary/third parties to the conflict. The latter may have less salient and weaker attitudes concerning the situation as opposed to Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian participants who may have stronger and more salient attitudes . Very few assessments have involved cross-cultural experimental studies about the effectiveness and usefulness of technology in teaching about peace building, particularly in the context of intractable conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and this should be further explored in the future.
Computer games like GC and PM facilitate the gaining by the participants of a conceptually complex view of the conflict as opposed to the simplistic and polarized view of the conflict often presented in collective narratives and mainstream socialization agents in a conflict environment . By achieving this, computer games can thus be a tool, as indicated by peace education scholars, for legitimating the other’s narrative in such a way that events are seen from both perspectives . This is an important step towards increasing learning about the “outgroup” and the conflict dynamics as indicated by social and political psychologists working on inter-group conflict ; a necessary step towards attitude change and reducing inter-group tensions.
This leads in the direction of another goal articulated by peace education scholars: liberating the parties from the perception of “sole victimhood” in the conflict . The more they understand and appreciate the perspective of the other party in the conflict, the more likely that empathy will develop and that they abandon a “victim” mentality . This may also lead to “in-group reappraisal” where parties begin to critically assess their group’s contribution to the conflict dynamics .
Computer games and their effects in this regard should be further explored in depth in future research.
The results comparing the effectiveness of GC and PM are promising in terms of showing that computer games can be used as part of peace education training. They indicate that these games are useful in engendering attitude change, especially in the form of taking a more balanced perspective and being able to look at the conflict through both lenses. However, it is also important to note the different results obtained from the two games. The game characteristics may be crucial in determining whether the players gain the perspective of both sides or not.
 This article is an abridged version of an article published by the author in the eLearning papers and available here.
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