There has been a major shift in recent years in the way video games portray Arabs, but developers are still struggling to find their place and not lean on problematic stereotypes.
Why is this important: Arab cultures have been coded into harmful stereotypes in games for decades.
- During a recent Games for Change panel titled “Arab Voices in Games,” four developers discussed the Arab / Amazigh / indigenous mena representation in video games and the issues they still face.
- These vary from more benign errors, such as poor translations or presenting the Arabic script from left to right. More seriously, he reduces Arab characters to terrorists and enemy food.
The big picture: The gaming industry is improving in the creation of diverse characters, including Pharah in “Overwatch” or Nomad in “Rainbow Six Siege”.
- But panelists believe there is a need for video games to normalize Arab cultures and voices in a more meaningful way. It means moving away from the idea that they are “sand villages with jeeps, machine guns, and really there is nothing in the area except fighting,” developer Rami Ismail said.
- “I would like scary Arabs. I would like happy Arabs. I would like silly Arabs. I would like funny Arabs. I would like too serious Arabs, I would like unfriendly Arabs.”
- For now, he says, developers still have to fight to make games about Arab cultures in a way that doesn’t use stereotypes. If you are creating a game about Egyptian culture, for example, you might need to explain “yeah, no, there are no pyramids”.
Final thought: Ubisoft’s communications and localization manager, Malek Teffaha, mimicking the stereotypes used by screaming vocal video games in their games with Middle Eastern sites, had a request: “Please get rid of it. you from that soundtrack. Please, please, everyone stop. “
If developers and investors want to make impactful changes in the gaming industry, Perfect Garbage’s co-founder and studio director, Son M., gave a simple piece of advice: “Money. Give me your money. “
Why is this important: Creating a meaningful change in the makeup of the gaming industry requires both creating space for marginalized creators and supporting them.
- While there are fundraising initiatives for small creators to tap into, Son says these diversity inclusion funds “get capped all the time” and developers ultimately need to find additional ways to fully fund their projects.
- “Without that kind of money, you can’t have teams that you can support, like a growing studio,” they told the Games for Change panel. “I really think that at least putting money into these initiatives is a good start.”
Inventory: Independent and AAA spaces often differ in their approach.
- It’s “because a lot of developers who come from our cultural backgrounds make games and put themselves in the foreground,” according to Son.
- They added that they had not seen this attitude fully spread in AAA games, as the industry “is still not fully receptive yet.”
- “There’s kind of a subtle three-move rule when you launch a game, which is risky. And apparently brown and black characters as the main characters in some genres are a risk factor.”
And after: To move the industry forward, the big studios will have to do their part.
- “I think the AAA actually has a very important role to play in using the resources they have to get these pieces of representation and standardize getting those representations,” Ismail said.
- “The push is definitely coming from indie,” he added. “But in AAA, that’s where a lot of the fighting seems to be right now.”