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
“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.”
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