Jihad: play the game
Western PC games feature US forces destroying Arab enemies. Now Islam is fighting back. Rebecca Armstrong reports
Wednesday 17 August 2005
Grenades - check. Sniper rifle - check. Prayer mat - check. Gamers may be used to saving the day by taking on alien forces from another universe but a new wave of computer games are more concerned with saving the world from non-believers. With titles like Special Force and Under Siege, these games sound similar to military titles like Medal of Honour that regularly top the UK games chart for best-selling titles. Once people start playing though, it's obvious Special Force and Under Siege are very different both in quality and in content to their mainstream rivals.
Hizbollah, a radical Islamic group, spent two years developing Special Force, a PC game designed to compete with games showing Arabs as enemies and Americans as triumphant heroes. Emblazoned across the cover is the invitation to: "Be a partner in the victory. Fight, resist and destroy your enemy in the name of force and victory."
Inspired by actual Hizbollah missions, Special Force takes place during operations on Israeli soldiers. Players have to deal with the same conditions as real Hizbollah fighters, including weather conditions, mines and the number of enemy - Israeli - troops. During training, players can practise their sniping skills on Israeli political and military figures including the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mahmoud Rayya, an official from the Hizbollah bureau, explained at the game's launch that "this game is resisting the Israeli occupation through the media". The game sold thousands of copies in Lebanon in the first two weeks after its release and has gone on to sell at least 10,000 more since.
Under Siege is another pro-Palestinian first person shooter (FPS) and is the sequel to Under Ashes, a game launched in 2001. Under Siege and Under Ashes were developed by Afkar Media, a Damascus-based software company that claims it creates games to educate as well as eliminate. "We believe we had to share responsibility in telling the story behind this conflict and targeting youngsters who depend on video games and movies -which always tell the counter side - to build their world knowledge." Under Ashes went on to sell more than 10,000 copies in the Middle East, as well as being downloaded more than 500,000 times from the company's website.
The game itself is a basic FPS that is billed as suitable for children aged over 13 despite the vast armoury available to players. Radwan Kasmiya, Afkar Media's executive manager, insists the game promotes non-violent methods. "This is not a game about killing. We are attempting to provide a new sort of digital dignity." Despite the warfare, the game does have a self-perception seldom found in mainstream military titles. At the end of one level, there is a tagline that reads: "A real life story or a political propaganda? You have the right to decide."
While these titles aim to redress the balance to a genre dominated by victorious US soldiers defeating Arab enemies, there are other games available that reflect a wider unease with Western thinking. The Ummah Defence titles are fairly innocuous, with robots as enemies and an Islamic universe under threat. In The Maze of Destiny, players battle with an evil wizard named Darlack the Deceiver who has ruined a Muslim utopia where everyone worships Allah by stealing the Book of Allah and imprisoning anyone who knows Allah's teachings. Armed only with their wits and their faith, players must rescue the wise ones from Darlack's dungeons. Challenges include setting bombs to open secret passageways and exploring endless labyrinths. Stylistically, the game is like an early Nintendo title but at its heart is the secular Darlack who plies people with alcohol, drugs, prostitutes and gambling.
All three titles are created by Islamgames, a US-based company that makes titles featuring battles between the defenders of Islam and their opponents. The company explains its stance by stating that: "Video games are a great learning tool, but many games available teach things contrary to the teachings of Islam. By providing an alternative to the mainstream, we can help our childrenin a subtle way learn to identify with Islamic values and teachings."
Islam Fun is a collection of PC mini-games aimed at encouraging children to learn more about Islam. In among Two Bunny Race and Building Blocks - Build a Mosque is the more alarming The Resistance. Gamers play a farmer in South Lebanon who has joined the Islamic Resistance to defend their land and family from invading Zionists. As the game is aimed at five- to seven-year-olds, it seems this particular mini-game is slightly advanced. In defence of their subject matter, Innovative Minds, the company behind Islam Fun, made this statement. "The questions in the game educate children not to fall for the Zionist lie that Zionism, Jewishness and Judaism are synonymous but to understand that Zionism, a racist ideology, has nothing to do with Judaism." There's little danger that hardline titles are going to become bestsellers in the UK, despite their efforts to represent a different ideology. The Video Standards Council, which decides the age and content rating system for UK computer games, does not permit the sale of any game containing material featuring discrimination or incitement to hatred against any ethnic group. Any title that contains material like this is also highly likely to contravene criminal law in the UK and most European countries. But, online boundaries are blurred, as one downloadable game from America, Ethnic Cleansing, proves.
Johnny Minkley, the editor of MCV, the trade magazine for the games industry, isn't convinced that religious games are ever going to compete with mainstream titles. "Video games are becoming a more acceptable mass-market media and a means of expression for more groups. It's natural evolution. Religious games are just one small facet of the games industry."
John Houlihan, the editor of Computer and Videogames, agrees: "There has been a move towards more religious gaming, both in America and the Middle East. However, these games are still very much a minority interest for the industry. Just like with music, the devil has all the best tunes - and all the best games."
Developer: Hizbullah Central Internet Bureau
Like Under Siege, Special Force is a more professional title than, say, Islamic fun. Players simulate Hizbollah fighters during military operations against the Israeli army and action is inspired by actual Hizbollah operations. Stalking soldiers, blowing up tanks and full on street battles are the main aspects of the game as players run through a city battleground causing destruction.
A selection of simple games for children that aim to teach them about aspects of Islam. Games like Building Blocks, where players create their own mosque, make up the majority. One stand-out mini-game is The Resistance, where players take the role of a farmer in south Lebanon who has joined Hamas to defend his land and family from the invading Zionists.
The sequel to Under Ash, Under Siege is a first-person shooter (FPS) game played from the perspective of a Palestinian. In single-player mode, Under Siege is like many FPS games featuring a specific enemy (in this case, the Israeli army), and gives players an arsenal of weapons with which to do battle. Choose from grenades, rocket launchers, sniper rifles and automatic weapons. Graphically, Under Siege is underdeveloped and very basic, so it won't be rivalling Far Cry in the FPS stakes.
Maze of Destiny
In Maze of Destiny, players must battle the evil wizard Darlack to rescue the teachers of the Koran and re-establish the true worship of Allah. Maze of Destiny is reminiscent of Zelda, with its maze-based 2D levels. Gamers have to negotiate labyrinthine dungeons while avoiding being plied with women or drink. Simple but effective.
Ummah Defense 1 & 2
It's the year 2114 and the Earth is united under the banner of Islam. As a member of the Intergalactic Muslim Council, your job is to help co-ordinate Dawa efforts on other planets. But the Flying Evil Robot Armada attacks Earth and it's up to you to save the planet. The first title is a simple, Space Invaders-inspired game, while Ummah 2 is more sophisticated, like an early Mario title.
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