April 12, 2024

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Image credit: Al-Monitor

The emergence of Arab heroes in video games

On a steamy summer day, a group of young people compete on consoles in a cool video gaming café. As it has been for the previous 20 years, it is a common scene in many Arab cities today.

Eslam Gamal, a software engineer and video gaming aficionado, spent many hours of his adolescence doing this in Cairo, Egypt, a city lacking pubs and taverns like many of his classmates.

Just like other entertainment sectors, video games have frequently made the all-too-common error of reinforcing stereotypes of Arabs.

Some adhere to an outdated orientalist perspective in which Arab males ride camels or play the flute to entice snakes, while Arab women do belly dances. Examples of this include the Metal Slug video game series; Aladdin; and Arabian Fight. Even though they are vintage arcade games, several retro systems are helping them to regain popularity.

Other games, especially first-person shooters, take the post-9/11 perspective and only portray Arab characters as terrorists.

But times are changing. A greater representation of Arabs is starting to appear in popular video games, mirroring how movies and TV shows are adopting a more global perspective.

The primary character of the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise by Ubisoft, Altair Ibn-La’Ahad, is still a Syrian assassin but has evolved into an Arab hero.

Eslam is not alone in having similar experiences, which is why Assassin’s Creed swiftly gained popularity among Arab players.

Altair was followed by other characters with good portrayals of Arabs. Faridah Malik, a competent pilot and the first recognisable Arab female heroine in a video game, is from the Deus Ex series.

The Assassin’s Creed developer, Ubisoft, a French company, wasn’t the only one in 2015 to capitalise on the expanding Arab market.

In the past ten years, as localization has gained popularity, game studios have started to appear in nations like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Ubisoft took advantage of the franchise’s success in the area and worked with local studios to localise the user interface, menu screens, and Arabic speech before releasing the game.

Ms Karout is putting date fruits on the tables inside the game and adorning the rooms with Islamic textiles by customs practised during the month