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Emanuel Maiberg | 2 Jun 2012 13:00
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"For me, facing that bureaucracy was a new challenge all over again every year," Simon told me in an interview. "As a student I managed to get by. I lived in cheap apartments and I was lucky to have parents who could support me. I also don't have special complaints against the city of Jerusalem. The bureaucracy is complicated and frustrating, but the bottom line is that you're entitled to a significant discount on your arnona. On the other hand, you can't compare the benefits you're entitled to as a student to those that yeshiva students are entitled to, a [Haredi, orthodox Jewish ] community that doesn't enter the job market and doesn't contribute money to the public funds - which creates a great feeling of frustration and bitterness among the secular Israeli public."

Knowing the rules and playing by them amounts to nothing in terms of guarantees for success.

Though the game is currently entirely in Hebrew (Simon and Rubin are considering adding English subtitles), you don't have to speak the language to realize that Arnona Race is not a somber work of political art. It is, as its developers intended, a funny piece of entertainment. A true testament to the quality of the game's writing is that it's surprisingly nonpartisan, given the subject matter.

As you can gather from Simon's statement, young Israelis are conflicted. They are grateful for and love their country, but they also know that something's not fair anymore, a sentiment that's expressed most poignantly at the end of the game.

Even after dealing with inane paperwork and individuals whose attitudes range from indifferent to malicious, after doing everything by the book and on time, Yigal still doesn't achieve his goal. Games have come a long way in the maturity of their narratives, but one thing the vast majority of them still have in common is that they allow the player to win. A player learns the rules of the game and is rewarded for mastering them. Such is not the reality of a young Israeli student. Knowing the rules and playing by them amounts to nothing in terms of guarantees for success.

Daphni Leef was the first person who set up her tent on a Tel Aviv avenue last summer and ignited the largest protest in the country's history. She was driven to this desperate act after her landlord kicked out the occupants of her apartment building for a remodel, at the end of which there were even fewer affordable apartments on the market. This type of situation is one of the main complaints of the protesters. Apartments are renovated out of the price range of the middle class much faster than affordable housing is constructed, leaving young people with little choice but to move back in with their parents.

This is the same fate Yigal meets at the end of his adventure. He manages to get all his permits in on time, but his aforementioned hairy-necked landlord sells the apartment to a realtor to make a quick buck. The punch line, it seems, is that Yigal has to admit that living with his parents again is not so bad. It's a funny joke, but mostly in the sense that humor helps us work through tragedy, which is ultimately what Arnona Race does, and perhaps the reason why it has struck a chord with so many Israelis.

Simon and Rubin are reluctant to ascribe a specific message to their game, but they also believe that games can be more than just entertainment, lending themselves to issues of social engagement.

"If we look at videogames as just another work of art," Simon commented, "like a film, book, music, etc., then it's a tool to convey messages. The advantage of a videogame, as I see it, is that it's interactive, and demands participation from its audience. In short, a game is another way to raise awareness about different issues. It's hard for me to believe that [Arnona Race] really changed something in people's world views - and since it wasn't our intention to use the game to make some defined political, social statement, I don't feel that that is a shortcoming. I identify with the goals of the protest movement that calls for the creation of a more equal society in Israel and more developed welfare policies, and in that respect if the game contributed to achieving those goals or helped bring more people into the protest than that's great."

Emanuel Maiberg is a freelance writer. He can be reached at emanuelmaiberg@gmail.com.

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