Raid Gaza! has the semblance of a casual shoot-em-up Flash game with its Indiana Jones-cribbed logo and stylish juxtaposition of bucolic Israeli fields snuggled up against a chockablock Palestinian Gaza Strip. Then you click "Go Raid 'Em!" and realize it's impossible to lose, as you wing missiles, Merkava tanks, F15I Eagle fighters, and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters at Gaza's untidy hodgepodge of circumscribed buildings and jumbled hovels.
Well, not until Hamas lobs a meandering Qassam rocket in your direction first, of course, at which point an Israeli official resembling Ehud Olmert appears onscreen entreating you to "please, hurry up and blow the Gaza Strip up before anybody gets hurt!"
Your goal is to kill as many Palestinians as possible in an alloted timeframe. You get three minutes to click on four squares and build an HQ to request money (denoted in Israeli shekels), a barracks to build tanks, an airport to queue planes and helos, and a missile pad. Click the pad to launch a missile, the airport to launch aircraft, or the barracks for tanks. Your units soar or trundle over to the strip and pound it to putty, producing a disproportionate kill ratio, with Palestinian casualties wildly outnumbering Israeli.
Your strategic options amount to timing aid requests with simplistic build queues to maintain an uninterrupted outflow of incendiary death. It's more or less whack-a-mole with four points to manage and negligible mechanistic flex. When the timer runs out, unless you're more efficient than I was when I tried it, the Olmert sendup critiques your numbers and scolds that
...during 2007, for every Israeli killed by a Palestinian, 25 Palestinians were killed by Israelis (counting civilians and combatants killed by security forces, military or individuals of the other side. Not too bad, huh?
A pro-Palestinian critique of Israel's recent actions? Well duh. The question is, is it effective?
Persuasive Games author Ian Bogost thinks so. He argues that
...[l]ike 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.
Bogost (for whom I have boundless respect) continues, suggesting that "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."
Anything wrong with Bogost's appraisal? I think so. While I see his broader point, that Raid Gaza! is more coherent than too many others of its ilk, I think his complimentary overview of the gameplay rings too generic. You might as well describe a series of message board posts, which also take strong editorial positions, require strategy, and carry a commentary payload. I'm not sure I see how those points make Raid Gaza!'s gameplay especially compelling. Click, click, click, time's up, "you didn't kill enough Palestinians," try again.
Satire? If bludgeoning the point home counts as such these days, I suppose.
Trouble is, in my experience, this kind of noisy oversimplification routinely entrenches the opposition. It's music for the choir. It ultimately persuades no one.
Where's the rhetorical depth? The internecine subtlety? The insight into fatalistic devotion to a cause? MIA, though I'll grant points for moments of fleeting statistical irony.
Otherwise, the game's political import seems to be that incredibly stupid people need the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian tragedy spelled out in the same sort of primary colors Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and Randi Rhodes and Al Franken paint with.
Is playing a game like Raid Gaza! as effective as something like this (from satirist Ted Rall)? It's not for me. How about you?
Emily Dickinson wrote "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant / Success in Circuit lies."
Raid Gaza!'s version of the Truth is certainly present and accounted for, but it's still a couple Circuits short of an elusively breakthrough persuasive heuristic. One that opens new doors, instead of reinforcing the locks on existing ones.