Raid Gaza! Editorial Games and Timeliness

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Raid Gaza! is a new editorial game about the Gaza crisis. Like editorial games should, it takes a strong position. But unlike so many, it also offers coherent gameplay that is related to the conflict it critiques.

The game argues against the justification of Israeli attacks on Gaza, representing them as unprovoked and characterizing Israel's response as overt aggression. The game's goal is to kill as many Palestinians as possible in a three minute session. The game begins with a quote from Ehud Olmert on "minimizing the number of Palestinans" in Gaza. The game connects the dots in the statement, suggesting that minimization implies killing. As shown above, special rewards are offered for occasional attacks on civilian targets. A creepy muzak-like instrumental version of the Carpenter's "Close to You" plays throughout.

Casualties are counted and always number overwhelmingly Palestinian. Furthermore, Israeli material resources are significant, allowing the construction of soldiers, tanks, missiles, and planes for defense, although the player can only use them for offense. Constructing a headquarters allows the player to increase the speed of construction of military resources (allowing more rapid attacks in the limited time the game allots. The headquarters also facilitates the requests for foreign aid. Such aid, when requested, will always be rewarded, a pretty clear commentary on the world's position with respect to the Middle East. 
The game is headstrong, suffering somewhat from its one-sided treatment of the issue at hand. But as an editorial, it is a fairly effective one both as opinion text and as game. It is playable and requires strategy, the exercise of which carries the payload of commentary. It's release on user-contributed animation and games portal Newgrounds came on 30 December 2008, only three days after the Israeli Defense Forces launched airstrikes as a part of "Operation Cast Lead." The rapidness with which the game was developed, combined with its relatively sophisticated ability to mount commentary through gameplay, underscore one of the biggest issues with editorial games.
As is the case for other forms of editorial, one important property of editorial games is timeliness. Whether through simple humor, poignant satire, or biting commentary, editorial prose, cartoon, or television segment takes advantage of the "nowness" of current events to open a critique underlying them.

Videogames pose a problem for timeliness. They are hard to create and release quickly such that they are also meaningful, something that is not necessarily true of the written or spoken word, or even of the hand-drawn picture. 

Indeed, newsgames produced very rapidly, like the many small ones about the recent George W. Bush shoe throwing incident, risk becoming tabloid games, little meaningless pointers that commemorate an event only to draw attention to it rather than to comment upon it. These games often capitalize rhetorically: the payload of a game about throwing a shoe at President Bush is the very idea of a game about such a thing, rather than any kind of commentary on the event or its meaning.

One of the challenges with timely editorial games is coherence. A coherent written argument or verbal riff can be penned by a competent writer in hours, perhaps even moments. Games that really critique an event demand more time. An extreme example is Gonzalo Frasca's Madrid, which was created just 48 hours after the March 2004 train bombings in that city, but which is not a mere tabloid game. In my own experience making editorial games, ten days to two weeks was as far as I was able to constrain the development process. 

The results weren't always entirely successful. A case in point is Oil God, a game about the global oil market of late fall 2006. The game made the commentary I'd hoped for (simultaneous natural disaster and political unrest are the most reliable causes of petroleum market destabilization), but it was terribly unbalanced and sometimes broke outright. This was a side-effect of the design's genre: a simulation in which many variables were at constant play. Balancing such a game is a delicate and lengthy process, one that we could not accomplish in the two-week development cycle.

Raid Gaza! was probably not created by a journalist nor a professional game developer (it was submitted to Newgrounds eponymously). Still, the piece was timely, coherent, and exerted commentary that is appreciable, even if it is not profound. The challenge for news organizations interested in creating or publishing editorial games is in developing internal or external expertise able to work under such constraint. Creating such a situation is more easily said than done, a topic to which I will return in future posts.

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Then there is this game y'all might be interested in, its called GAZA DEFENDER: