Playing to Build Bridges

11 January 2018

Nearly 100 Jewish and Arab game designers, architects, educators, activists and children gathered around tables filled with arts and crafts supplies at the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa on December 28th. The large room buzzed with activity. They were creating games that will acquaint people with other cultures, smash stereotypes and bridge gaps in the hopes of changing the world. Their aim was to turn Israel into a place where Jews and Arabs live together with respect, acceptance, and peace.

“Games are among today’s most powerful media,” said Shatil’s Gali Bessudo, one of the event’s organizers. “They are no longer just a way to pass the time or have fun. People learn from games no less than they learn from school; they can be a way to convey complex messages.”

At Israel’s first-ever Games for a Shared Society Hackathon, the atmosphere was inspiring. Participants worked together in a 10-hour marathon of creativity and imagination. At one table, participants worked on a virtual “Minecraft for a Shared Society,” in which two sinking ships, one carrying Jews, the other Arabs, must cooperate to overcome a series of challenges in order to win. In another game, the player acts as prime minister and strategizes what to do about the Arab-Israeli conflict while trying to build a country.

Shatil co-facilitated the event with PlayWork, a company that creates engagement by using play. They received input from Games for Peace, a community of people who believe online games are a radical new way of bridging the gap between young adults from troubled regions across the world. NIF will provide funding for the development process of the three games that show the most potential.

Said Naomi Abraham, a school counselor from Haifa, “This is amazing. People here are willing to broach this difficult, important subject in an environment that inspires ideas.”