Gaming Is Politics By Other Means

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The Inquirer had a blurb about this Arab game called Underash, in which you get to fight in the intifada against the Israelis.

In short, trade in your rocket launcher for a rock.

The concept of a shoot-me-up game as an exercise in politics rather intrigued me, so I poked around a bit and found the homesite for this game.

The creators claim that they created the game because they got tired of their own kids playing games where they were shooting their own people. They wanted to offer an Arabic game with an Arabic perspective.

I’m not going to review the game as a game (though if a serious gamer who can read Arabic wishes to do so, we’d certainly be interested in reviewing and possibly publishing their gaming comments).

Just looking around a bit at the edges, though, seems like the game is short on graphics and long on politics.

The issue is not what kind of politics, nor that the use of popular media to advocate a political cause is anything new. The issue is rather “Can a game be effective propaganda, and if so, to what extent?”

Let me give an example. Let’s assume someone came out with a game called “Terminating the Taliban.” Such a game would likely start with a figure of an American President (if not George W. himself) essentially telling you to go get ’em. Maybe this lasts about thirty seconds, then you go off to kill Taliban textures.

Essentially, it’s an excuse for you to start killing. The computer doesn’t care whom, what or why you kill. Neither do the game makers. Today, Taliban- or terrorist-termination, tomorrow, who knows? If they thought killing Canadians would sell, we’d see games like Maul the Mountie. Just a matter of changing some textures and graphics.

Some may say that killing __________ for hours on end is hardly going to leave you with a positive outlook about your cannon-fodder of choice, and they’re probably right, though the effect in most cases are subtle.

99.999% of the time, you’re not going to play the game, then take out the owner of the nearby 7-11. It might reinforce some negative attitudes you might have about that owner, though.

Let’s take that Taliban game and politicize it. Rather than have the focus of the game be a strict shoot-em-up where your enemies’ only real fault during the game is continually trying to kill you, have Dubya interrupt the action every few minutes to tell you how evil your enemy is.

Or have sequences where the Taliban are beheading short-skirted American babes left and right or Osama is happily plotting out “911, The Sequel.”

This seems to be more along the lines of Underash.

Would this make any real difference to the players?

At what point does the propaganda overwhelm the game? If Dubya keeps nagging you, do you get even more furious and hate the Taliban even more? Or do you just hit the Escape button?

How many babe beheadings can there be before you become bored?

The game appears to be solely in Arabic, so it’s not meant for the West. Nonetheless, just as red-blooded American gamers probably wouldn’t want to hear Dubya ad nauseum preaching to the choir, Arab gamers probably would be feel the same way at some point.

How Do You Win This Game?

I mean, really? Are you on a search for a rock that not only defeats an Israeli, or an Israeli tank, but Israel, too? Talk about magic.

How many points do you get per Israeli you take out? Do you get bonus points for living or dying in an attack? Just how do you win?

Most people want to play games they have a chance of winning. They don’t want to win a battle; they want to win the war. Martyrdom in any time and place is generally admired from afar, a far better spectator than participant sport.

So how do you make victory-seeking gamers happy in this game?

Usually, games are faulted for not reflecting reality. Here, reality is the problem.

You have two people, one land, and there’s enough people on either side who don’t want to share to keep those who do from doing that. That’s the Israeli-Palestinian problem in one sentence.

And when one of those sides has a couple hundred nuclear weapons; they ain’t going away and nobody else is going to make them go away, no matter how unfair or unjust or unanything else it is. No matter how many martyrs you make or rocks you throw.

Rocks and world opinion can get you to a negotiating table. They’ll never get you a white flag. The most the Palestinians can expect for the foreseeable future is to get a West Bank state. Forty years ago, Israel didn’t have the West Bank. Thirty years ago, Israel probably would have agreed to a West Bank state, no problem. Twenty years ago, they probably could have been persuaded to agree to a viable West Bank state without too much fuss. Today?
If a reasonably viable West Bank state hasn’t already become a fantasy, that day is soon approaching.

You Have To Know When To Hold ‘Em, Know When To Fold ‘Em

In chess, you can’t always play to win. When you’re in a hole, you fight for a draw, because the only other alternative is losing. The Palestinians are in a hole, hell, they’re in quicksand, and Israel keeps leaning on them, and the more some of them struggle for total victory, the quicker they sink.

Some Palestinians realize that for a start, they have to stop sinking. Probably most. The problem is enough don’t to preclude any sort of long-term deal or peace. They’re only strong enough to defeat peace, not the Israelis.

You and your people live in a valley. Little Sprout shows up and buys some of it. Most of you don’t like this idea, so you try to chase him out of it. Instead, he chases you out of a lot more of the valley.

You get some of your friends to chase him out, and Little Sprout keeps whipping both their butts and yours, each time grabbing more. Your friends get tired of this and get the hell out of the valley. Then Little Sprout starts showing up with the Jolly Green Giant, who tut-tuts every once in a while as Little Sprout keeps grabbing more from you, but always backs up Little Sprout when push comes to shove.

Sure, you can try to set fire to the valley and try to chase Little Sprout away, but you can’t do too much with just a Bic. You can hurt him a bit here and there, but he can always hurt you more, and every once in a while, Little Sprout has the Giant (or at least his machines) accidentally step on you. If by some miracle, you ever got Little Sprout in real trouble, imagine how much foot-stomping the Giant can do if he means it.

Even if the Giant someday gets mad at Little Sprout and walks away from the valley for good, Little Sprout can blow up the valley out of sheer spite.

This is not exactly a scenario for total victory.

This is like the old computer cartoon that shows a programming flowchart and the single link between the rest of the flowchart and its completion has as its description “And then a miracle happens.” In either case, it’s not something you can count on.

If I wanted to someday eradicate Little Sprout (which I certainly don’t), the smart thing to do is to first realize I’ve been getting my ass kicked for over fifty years and maybe it’s time for a new approach. Right now, Little Sprout is a lot likelier to throw me and mine out of the valley sometime soon than the other way around.

While the Giant doesn’t especially want Little Sprout chucking me, he definitely wants me and mine to stop trying to evict or even bother Little Sprout.

So make the best deal with the Giant you can get, then leave Little Sprout alone for a long time and work to improve yourselves and your country until another, better time and place.

Mr. Arafat realized at least the first part of this quite a while back. His problem is that too many of his countrymen won’t swallow even the first part for him to control, and they’re too strong for peace, too weak for victory.

One of the great ironies of our time is that the biggest friend of Israeli expansionism have been those who have fought it and hate it the most.

What does all this has to do with the game? The problem is not that this game being played as a fantasy; it’s that reality is being played that way.

Do you know what would be a useful and truly dangerous intifada game? It wouldn’t be a shoot-me-up. It would be like SimCity. In order to win, you have to stay quiet and build up your resources for a long, long time, maybe for a hundred years. Then maybe you start thinking about kicking butt.

Now that would be a game that would scare the bejezus out of Israel. Hell of a lot more than some fantasy rock throwing.

Ed Stroligo


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