War games go dig­i­tal ...and a video rabbi set for star­dom

David Lasser­son in­ves­ti­gates pro­pa­ganda mas­querad­ing as com­puter fun. Be­low right, Lemez Lovas meets a pixel­lated rabbi

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Books -

“TRUS­SELL STONE is a cyn­i­cal Lower East Side New York rabbi, bruised by the shame of a dwin­dling con­gre­ga­tion, spi­ralling debts and a cri­sis of faith.

But just as he fi­nally de­cides to hang up his talit once and for all, fate in­ter­venes in the shape of a mys­te­ri­ous be­quest in the will of a mur­dered for­mer con­gre­gant. It prom­ises to save the syn­a­gogue — and Rabbi Stone’s be­lief — from cer­tain ruin. But then the gravel-voiced cop as­signed to the case in­forms the rabbi that he is the prime sus­pect.

And so be­gins an ex­tra­or­di­nary new ad­ven­ture video game, The Shivah, that looks sure to make a star out of its cre­ator, Dave Gil­bert. The at­mos­phere evoked by the game is part clas­sic Humphrey Bog­art de­tec­tive movie and part vin­tage New York Jewish com­edy, with the hero cast as the be­lea­guered private dick.

The idea of a rabbi as de­tec­tive is not new: US writer Harry Kemel­man’s much-loved hero, Rabbi David Small, is a mas­ter­ful de­tec­tive. But as Rabbi Stone in The Shivah, you too must ques­tion wit­nesses and solve clues, all the time wrestling with your con­science and mak­ing eth­i­cal and moral de­ci­sions along the way. Un­like many of the other big-bud­get re­li­gious games on the mar­ket, such as he rain beat out an ir­reg­u­lar stac­cato rhythm on the win­dow. But I can only hear one thing. Jack Lauder. Jack Lauder. It was more than just a name. It was a link to a time when things were sim­pler. A time when I though I had it all fig­ured out. A time when morals and ethics meant some­thing.” the apoca­lyp­tic Chris­tian block­buster Eter­nal Forces, The Shivah is thank­fully not a ser­mon dressed up as en­ter­tain­ment — the con­tent is more cul­tural than re­li­gious, in line with Gil­bert’s own ex­pe­ri­ences.

“Grow­ing up in New York, I al­ways took it for granted that there were so many Jews around, and while I was teach­ing in Asia for a year, be­ing the only Jew there felt re­ally weird,” he says. Per­haps I cre­ated this game as a way to re­con­nect with that part of me that I had lost for a while.”

The Shivah

was re­leased last Novem­ber by Gil­bert’s own fledg­ling soft­ware house, Wad­jet Eye Games, and dis­trib­uted by indie games web­site Man­i­festo. The odds of suc­cess are firmly stacked against the in­de­pen­dent games maker in the multi-bil­lion dol­lar gam­ing in­dus­try. How­ever, The Shivah has al­ready at­tracted ex­ten­sive cov­er­age in the in­ter­na­tional press.

“When I first told my mother I was writ­ing a game about a rabbi,” he re­calls, “her first re­ac­tion was — ‘What do you know about rab­bis?’ But now that her son is be­ing talked about on CNN and in the Jerusalem Post, she has started email­ing all our rel­a­tives about my games.”

What re­ally im­presses is the at­ten­tion to de­tail and the wit: for ex­am­ple the Rabbi’s email server, RavNet, has a built-in web­site of Jewish jokes that play­ers can ac­cess. With its stylised, retro-chunky pixel­lated graph­ics, The Shivah is an in­tel­li­gent and witty ad­ven­ture that will bring out the gamer in any­one. You can down­load a demo at www.dav­el­gil.com/ags/shivah.zip or see www.dav­el­gil.com

Images of the Chan­dleresque Rabbi Rus­sell Stone in The Shivah

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