Have We Unearthed More Than Just A Ripoff?
Video games have become a large part of culture in a multitude of countries around the world. The biggest industries are comfortably located within Japan and America, so it is uncommon to see games represent cultures outside of these – represent them fairly, that is. An exception is Europe, which currently has a growing industry with many indie games grabbing a lot of attention from press, and bigger titles like the Polish The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings and Swedish-developed Battlefield 3 being part of mainstream gaming fare. Quite unsurprisingly, Arabic game developers do not share such a successful story – yet, their work holds a high significance in the future of the gaming industry.
The Winners Write History
As everyone is fully aware, American president George W. Bush initiated a military effort in 2001 to eliminate those perceived as a threat to the USA and its allies. The main target was the Islamic extremist group known as al-Qaeda – you know, those suicidal bombers like in the Serious Sam games. The military effort was coined The War on Terror. This has had a huge effect on the perception of the Arabic population around the world, with many negative connotations being attached to the target region of the US military campaign. In many ways, this Western-led ideology encourages Westerners to believe that Arabic culture is synonymous with ‘terrorist.’ These kinds of ideologies are created by governments and often voiced to the public through media products. A good example of this can be seen during 1950’s America when Senator McCarthy incited the American public through exaggerating and falsely portraying the threat of communism. This birthed the term ‘McCarthyism’ and many experts and professionals such as Professor David Cole have actually described The War on Terror as the New McCarthyism, in his book entitled The New McCarthyism: Repeating History in the War on Terrorism.
Being one of the most popular forms of entertainment, video games are a prime vessel for the U.S. government (and all governments) to transmit their ideology onto an unknowing public. In fact, video games that you have played in your home have been used many times to encourage potential recruits to join the U.S. Army and fight in the war on terrorism. The U.S. Army has invested millions in U.S. Army Experience Centers in the last few years, with PCs and consoles wired up to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and other similar games for recruits to play. Speaking in 2009 to Reuters about this tactic used by the U.S. Army, former staff sergeant and Iraq war veteran, Jesse Hamilton, said the use of video games glamorized war and misled potential recruits, calling it "very deceiving and very far from realistic.” But misleading recruits about the realities of war is not the only corruption these games bring about. After all, the Call of Duty series breaks sales records every time a new entry is released, and as such the series has become a figurehead for the medium in general. It is worrying then, that the series that now holds the record as the biggest entertainment launch of all time gets away with spreading an all-American message around the globe in a way that would be shunned if present in any other medium. Even the recent Captain America movie toned it down, and if any movie had the right to be an orgy of patriotism that would be it.
The Modern Warfare series in particular plays on typical terrorist stereotypes with inherent racial slurs towards anyone who is not from the UK or US. Like it or not, the series is the biggest and most accessible method of transferring the government-bred message that America’s efforts in the Middle East are justified, and that everyone who stands against this ideal is a threat. It’s hardly subtle either; the scenes of American nationalism are so frequent and over-the-top that it’s nauseating. While Call of Duty is not the worst culprit for this portrayal of the Arabic populations, it is the series that has spread the message the furthest. Considering the untruthful reconstruction of these ‘terrorist nations,’ it’s not too surprising to find that video games have now become the primary source for an Arabic cultural backlash.