Forbidden Games

Ideology and video games in the Middle East

Director: Natasha Dudinski

Producer: DigressMedia

Year: 2007

A short report on video games and propaganda in the Middle East. The terribly serious tone seems a bit dated now, but this was a fascinating report to make.

For more background on games and propaganda in context, see this Guardian article.

Full Transcript

Ideological gaming in the Middle East

Report by DigressMedia, Jerusalem

Reporter intro to camera: Space Invaders. Super Mario Brothers. Sonic the Hedgehog. Videogames have come a long way since those innocent days. Now with a global market worth billions of dollars annually, games creators have come to realise that this can be more than mere entertainment. Videogames have now become the latest ideological weapon in the battle for young hearts and minds

Visuals: action from US war game. US soldiers corner a single Arab fighter.

Voiceover: Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry. And in the very popular war games, a common scenario turns the player into an imaginary US soldier shooting down groups of Arab terrorists. But there’s a digital backlash brewing in the Middle East, where programmers are creating games from the opposite perspective. (Visuals: Galit Elat teaching child to play) Galit Elat is the director of the Israel Centre for Digital Art. Her exhibition “Forbidden Games” brings together videogames from radically different ideologies.

Galit Elat: Most of the games are developed with the West’s perspective. So the terrorists are always Arabs, the bad guys are Arabs, the good guys are American or European or Israelis. And they’ve developed different games so that children can identify themselves with heroes that are Arabs, and not Americans.

V/O: The most violent games are to be found in the bomb shelter underneath the building. The Night of Bush Capturing is a direct adaptation of an American game called the Quest for Saddam. The player takes on the role of an Arab fighter entering a US military camp, shooting American soldiers, and attempting to capture President Bush.

Visuals: Galit Elat going downstairs to bomb shelter, walking through dark corridors, playing game in darkness, action from the game.

Galit Elat playing game: I’m killing Americans. And I think I’m part of Al Qaeda forces. I’m more interested in the ideological aspect behind the games and less about the experience of playing the games themselves. This is the reason the games are here. Oh someone killed me.

Visuals: end of game: “You got killed. Do you want to try again? Yes/No.”

V/O: Special Force is a game developed by Hezbollah. It begins with a training camp, where players practise shooting on the portraits of Israeli leaders. Then they go out and fight Israeli soldiers in South Lebanon.

Visuals: opening title sequence from Special Force. Shooting practice at head of former Israeli defence minister.

Galit Elat playing game: From what I heard it’s a big hit in Ramallah. A lot of young people playing this game.

Visuals: Galit Elat teaching children to play, action from game, child playing.

Galit Elat: I’m not for these games. For me they are forbidden. But still I open it to the public because one can’t find part of the games here on the market. One has to explore Ramallah or other places, to have other sources to get the games. So in a way I open up something that I think is forbidden.

Visuals: action from Stone Throwers game - Palestinian demonstrator in front of Al Aqsa Mosque throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and then dying.

V/O: One room contains two very different perspectives on the Palestinian Uprising or Intifada. A game from Syria, called The Stone Throwers, centres on a lone Palestinian demonstrator who throws stones at waves of Israeli soldiers.

Visuals: closing screens from Stone Throwers game. “Game Over. Well maybe you have killed some of the Israeli soldiers in the computer world, but… (photo of martyr’s funeral) This is the real world”

V/O: On the other hand… a game from Israel called Intifada shows a single Israeli soldier facing many Palestinian demonstrators.

Visuals: blonde girl playing. Action from Intifada game. Israeli ambulance picks up wounded soldier. “Game Over - you are just another victim of Arab terrorism.”

Galit Elat: If you think how easy it is to push the button. When you are sitting in a tank, or in an aeroplane. How easy it is to push the button to shoot someone through the screen. I think it’s almost the same feeling as you have here. You don’t communicate. You don’t see face, you don’t see eyes. You just push the button.

Visuals: computer game - bombing a busy market town.

Galit Elat: If we want to live in the Middle East we have to communicate with our neighbours and to understand the culture and the motivation, and to have a more if not open environment at least more understanding. That is what we are trying to do as a cultural centre.

Reporter to camera: A games war is being played out on computer screens all over the world. As the games designers compete with eachother a young generation is spending hours in front of the screen. It may look like child’s play but this media war is no game.

David Lasserson, Holon, Israel.

You may also like: