An armored personnel carrier rumbles across the cobblestones on your screen, the sound of shattering molotovs glass-clear and crisp in digital stereo. Apache whoop-whoops rise ominously as the choppers sweep down from the tenement line. You grit your teeth, thumb poised above your controller button. Before the missiles scream home, a final glimpse of the desert-red sunset, and two hooded figures scurry into the shadows of an alleyway. The shots find their sweet spot.
This isn't cable news, and the banner rolling across the bottom of your screen indicates your score has reached an all-time high. You completed your mission and earned bonus points for limiting civilian casualties.
Before you move on to your next mission, you pause to watch your screen engulfed in a sea of blue-and-white, the Seal of Solomon billowing and crackling as 'Hinay Matov u'Manayim' plays boisterously in the background. Your ethnic pride swells like a thick plume of smoke.
Welcome to the world of Anti-Fada Paratrooper, the new hyperreal battle-action game released earlier this year for Sony Playstation 2. Never heard of it? No surprise, given that the software sold out one month into its first million-unit production run. The mystery buyer: the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, which just used the game as the centerpiece of its annual Purim campaign mailing. A second release is due in stores by the time summer vacation starts. So unless you know yourself some Jews, you're going to have to wait a little longer...
Apparently some thought this game was real.
The first computer game to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was called Intifada, and it was developed by an Israeli named Michael Medved in 1989, at the height of the first Palestinian uprising. The idea in this primitive game was to patrol the streets of a Palestinian village (only from right to left or vice versa), and to fire at Palestinian rioters who burst out from the sides of the screen and approached the image of the player. Between one bloody patrol and the next, slogans appeared on the screen such as: "In the course of your mission against the rioters, you operated contrary to your instructions. Your terrible performance was recorded by foreign television crews, and caused the fall of the government."
And some others, which sound more like typical commerical games with Israeli themes:
Two games that are more serious and come from the mainstream of the game industry, are Divided Ground: Middle East Conflict, and (in Hebrew) Blue Star: The Israel Air Force, which was developed in Tel Aviv by the Israeli Pixel company. Divided Ground is a strategy game based on taking turns, in which players act as IDF commanders or generals in Arab armies, who fight the enemy of their choice on historical battle sites such as Latrun in 1948, the Rafah Salient in 1967 or the Chinese Farm in 1973. When the game came out in mid-2001, critics considered it mediocre. In Israel it was almost ignored.
Blue Star, on the other hand, became a local best-seller immediately after it arrived in the stores at the end of 1998. The game - which simulates a military flight - enables armchair pilots to fly generations of air force planes and reenact various historic battles, high above virtual Earth.
(If anyone has any more info on Intifada or Blue Star, or first hand experience with the games, let me know)