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On Running Feuds
The Road to Damascus Leads to Gaming
By Adrian Hall     |   Posted on August 03, 2007   |   Episode 130 (Show Archive)  

   

The ongoing battle between the Israelis and the Palestinian brings new meaning to the name On Running Feuds!
Let's just get this out of the way: Most video games have an extremely American (or to a lesser extent Japanese) bent. When is the last time you remember playing a game with a hero from Sweden or Siam or any other country that started with S? This is a result of America's economic, political and artistic sphere influence over the world. That topic has been the subject of discussion in every form of media presently in existence. Even many westerners are disturbed by the power we have shown over the rest of the world, especially with an ever-increasing military independence, which has become painfully obvious since the invasion of Iraq.

Not even our precious games are safe. America's Army is the ultimate recruitment tool, a game that not only entices players to join the Marines but also trains them in military procedures. This game is pertinent to this article because it is available online for free and is played all over the world. The game features primarily

America's Army may be the most vocal, but these days most realistic shooters feature American soldiers fighting stereotypical middle eastern enemies!
Arab enemies and yet it has a fairly large Arab following. The reason is that few alternatives exist which allow you to play as anything but an American soldier. Nearly all military games feature the American forces as the lead roles with foreign enemies, which are often loosely based on real events and people.

That is not to say that there are no foreign protagonists in games. The Prince of Persia and Kratos from God of War are from Persia and Greece respectively (though both are strictly fantasy characters), and Mario is technically Italian. Even Command and Conquer has a Soviet campaign. The problem is that not only are these characters few and far between, they do not come from their native perspectives. In fact the first two are legends, Mario is a cartoon and Command and Conquer is

Kratos is a fantastic example of a non-American hero ... too bad he's as fictional as they come!
intentionally campy. There are simply no games that fairly represent most of the world. The best exception that I can think of is the recent Okami. Not only is it simply a brilliant game, it shows off the legends and artwork of the Japanese people. This speaks volumes about just how much the Japanese have surpassed the rest of the world in matching the West in game development.

Part of the reason for this may be that Arabic countries haven't had much of a video game industry until very recently. Unfortunately, starting up a new video game company is becoming more and more expensive. It is possible that the rebirth of small projects in the form of Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network and soon Nintendo's new download service, Wii Ware, will help to correct this problem, but there is still a long way to go. There isn't a big push yet for video game creation and while small games are nice they cannot compete with the blockbusters. Simply put, no matter how much people might like Geometry Wars or Calling All Cars, they will always choose Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto.

The bigger issue is that while not being Western is surprisingly good as a tool for uniting countries, there is no one person or group trying to do anything about it. Occasionally something slips through but there is not really a rising force. What's more, if something does get made the odds of a Western release are minimal at best. The Association

While the graphics may not be on par with Crysis, the modern Middle Eastern games tell stories you would never even think about seeing in a Western game!
of Christian Entertainers is proof that a group can seriously benefit a niche type of game both during and after development. The problem is that whereas Christian themed games will probably (and hopefully) always stay niche, non-Western games should take up permanent residence in our psyche and on our shelves.

Syrian developer Dar al-Fikr was created with the specific intent of dealing with the problem of American influence in video games and lack of representation for other countries. Thus far they have released two games, which provide a

Think Ninja Gaiden is hard? Apparently you haven't tried to kill a tank with a sling shot!
different take on the shooter genre. Unlike Western titles, these games feature Palestinian rebels as their protagonists. They also depict real events, as opposed to most modern games that take influence from the real world but mostly base games on fiction.

The first game, Under Ash, revolves around a man opposed to Israeli occupation who resorts to violence against Israeli forces. The second game, Under Siege, features a family that is caught in the second fight between the Palestinians and Israeli forces. Both games are extremely difficult since fighting an army is not as easy as Snake and Duke Nukem make it look (as BBC News said, "It's a bit like life really", a quote on the box of the second game). And it is ultimately impossible to win either game. For these reasons the games

Hopefully the sequel comes with hot four on four online multiplayer sling shot action!
are considered to be both documentary and propaganda. They are also extremely popular, likely due to their uniqueness and the small number of developers local to the Middle Eastern world.

I recently bought a copy of Under Siege out of sheer curiosity since there is very little information on the game itself available. Even the website only has screenshots and a brief synopsis. Hence I felt responsible for providing a little more information on the game in the same way you would read about Bioshock or Halo.

Graphically the game is adequate for about five years ago. Considering this, the system requirements are quite high. They are peanuts to any gamer, but still fairly substantial for a game which looks a lot like Resident Evil 4 (which looks much better on a TV than on a computer, let me tell you). Still

Movies have been dealing with the Palestinian culture for years, perhaps it's time gaming steps up to the plate and offers their take on this conflict!
Dar al-Fikr is a very small publisher, which is only now starting to grow large enough to produce more complex titles. The sound design is actually quite good and features full voice over work. Unfortunately this is all in Arabic as is all the writing, so it is never quite clear what you are intended to do (though you will usually figure it out). There is not yet an English language version of the game and no translation guide exists. Luckily the game's CGI full-motion video cut scenes give a good idea of what is going on, but given the aforementioned difficulty of the game you can spend ages shooting stuff and dying over and over, not knowing what your ultimate goal is.

The difficulty in the game comes from extremely realistic damage. It takes the same route as Max Payne: you and your enemies can take pretty much the same amount of damage. For this reason, whenever you wind up without bullets you can despair because you will probably be dead before you get anything else to shoot with. That said, there are a good number of guns in the game and you don't have to start out with a useless pistol like in most shooters. The game is played from both a first and third person perspective, which you can switch at any time.

The story is (probably) what makes this game interesting. There are five family members and they each apparently have different motives and

I'm sure that games like Under Under Siege and Under Ash make right wing radio host Michael Savage's head spin in all kinds of interesting directions!
feelings about the occupation. This falls back on the language barrier. There seem to be plans to release this game in the west and while I can't guarantee it's popularity it will at least give us a better idea of what the game is about.

These games are not for everyone. These products are clearly focused more on current events than the actual gameplay (not that there is anything wrong with it particularly) and so even with English included most people will pass it by because it's ugly, difficult and doesn't feature a story that is easy to connect with. This may be a sign of how saturated with crap Westerners have become since it has sold very well so far. But maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps enough people will be curious when and if the game is released here that we will show that we are not a completely self-obsessed culture, the ultimate reason that this problem arose in the first place. And maybe Duke Nukem Forever will be released ...

Either way, it's an interesting development to see groups and countries express their plight through this interactive entertainment. We've seen plenty of Middle Eastern movies that have told these compelling stories, perhaps we're starting to see this kind of story telling infiltrate the video game market. While you may not connect with the stories that are being told, this is an important step in the video game industry.
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