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Shortcut to Understanding

Emanuel Maiberg | 2 Jun 2012 09:00
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Last summer, more than 400,000 Israelis took to the streets to protest their nation's housing crisis. Explaining the chain of events that instigated the social movement would require a lengthy lesson in economy, history, and the complicated politics unique to the region, but everything you want to know about the frustration of the average Israeli you can learn from a point-and-click adventure game.

If you've played a point-and-click adventure game before, you can guess where things go from here.

In 2009, Alon Simon and Oren Rubin were animation majors in The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Rather than make another animated short for their senior project, they wanted to pay homage to the classic LucasArts adventure games they loved; something like Sam & Max or Monkey Island , but about a local issue that all Israelis could relate to. Simon and Rubin had dabbled with point-and-click game design before, and when a mutual friend suggested the idea of a story about a student trying to get a discount on his taxes, they began working on Arnona Race .

"Arnona" is the local municipal tax all Israelis have to pay, tied to the size, location, and type of property. It can be quite expensive, but the government understands that between the cost of tuition, juggling a job and a demanding class schedule, a generous amount of slack can be cut for the student that's living on his own by allowing him to pay a fraction of this tax.

The game begins when its protagonist, Yigal, comes back from a vacation in India to discover that his bong-wielding, gamer roommate has failed to take care of their arnona. To avoid eviction from his basement apartment, Yigal will have to pay the arnona by the end of the day, meaning he'll have to finish all the paperwork required for his discount.

Government bureaucracy, forms, and permits may not sound like subject matter ripe for a point-and-click adventure game, but familiarity with the difficulties involved in dealing with the government in Israel on any level would clarify how traditions of the genre, with all their strengths and weaknesses, are a perfect fit.

As the gravelly voice of the government clerk explains, in order to receive his discount, Yigal must produce the lease for his apartment, a permit from the university that proves he's currently enrolled, and a similar permit from his roommate.

This task is nearly impossible, considering the current Israeli climate in which no one's motivated to lift even the smallest of fingers for a young student. To the contrary, it seems like everything about the system, both the game's and the one in reality, is designed to sabotage Yigal at every turn.

To the city council clerk, Yigal is just another ID number with a sob story. To his hairy-necked neanderthal landlord, Yigal is a minor nuisance who can easily be replaced with countless other desperate apartment seekers willing to pay higher rent. Even the university's student union is an obstacle to Yigal, as its picket line makes it impossible for him to attain his student record. To his stoner roommate, Yigal is just a whiny object obstructing his view of the television.

If you've played a point-and-click adventure game before, you can guess where things go from here. Every item you need in order to progress requires you to first get another item, which itself requires you to get something else, and so on as the situation spirals further and further away from the initial objective. It's frustrating, annoying, and at times feels entirely pointless - exactly what trying to get a discount on your arnona feels like.

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