Arab game developers seek greater inclusion in video game industry

As quarantine dragged on, gamers found solace in Nintendo’s cutesy, relaxing life simulator, through which one could virtually interact with friends by visiting each other’s island home bases. (Shutterstock)
As quarantine dragged on, gamers found solace in Nintendo’s cutesy, relaxing life simulator, through which one could virtually interact with friends by visiting each other’s island home bases. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 01 January 2021

Arab game developers seek greater inclusion in video game industry

Arab game developers seek greater inclusion in video game industry
  • Some Saudis who created their own games, have so far struggled to break out of the Middle East due to prejudice

RIYADH: Video games are one of the most popular forms of media in the world, reportedly worth around $90 billion globally.
A 2019 report by business consulting firm Frost and Sullivan ranked Saudi Arabia as the 19th-largest gaming market in the world in terms of revenue, at around $837 million. That figure was expected to grow at a 22.5 percent compound annual rate between 2019 and 2025.
However, despite the regional popularity of video games, Arab gamers have been increasingly vocal about their dissatisfaction with the way that their language and culture have been represented by the industry, and have been calling for greater inclusion and cultural awareness, especially in big-budget games.
Some Saudi game developers have attempted to combat this by creating their own games, but have so far struggled to break out of the Middle East, in part due to prejudice. Abdullah Konash, a Saudi indie game developer, highlighted one incident where a game he worked on — “Areeb World” — faced attacks online, purely because it was an Arabic-only game.
The educational game, published by Saudi-based software company Remal Ventures, was released on Steam in 2015 and, according to Konash, provoked harassment from non-Arab gamers, deeply disheartening the team.
“While we did see a few comments that were encouraging and offered real feedback, many of the comments we received were from trolls,” he said. “Questions such as ‘Is this game halal?’ or ‘Is there a special price for infidels?’ or ‘How do I blow myself up?’”
Dutch-Egyptian video game developer Rami Ismail has often spoken up about the media prejudice faced by Arabs and Muslims. At a 2016 Game Developers Conference (GDC) panel on how Islam is treated by the media, he bitterly remarked: “Muslim blood is cheap. We’re probably the cheapest blood in the media right now.”
In a 2015 talk at XOXO, an annual conference held in Portland for independent artists, Ismail showed the audience an example of how Arabs are disrespected in popular media by showcasing a popular game with a $100 million budget failed to present the written Arabic in the game correctly. “This was a game in which a giant part of the budget went into making sure that you can shoot my people in hyper-realistic fashion … and they couldn’t even check (if the Arabic was correct),” he said.
Ismail is known to the industry as a “Visible Muslim” — a term he told Arab News he accepts only because he understands the necessity of it.

At a 2016 Game Developers Conference panel on how Islam is treated by the media...Muslim blood is cheap. We’re probably the cheapest blood in the media right now.’

Dutch-Egyptian video game developer Rami Ismail

“It’s one of those monikers that you would hope one day becomes unnecessary. I appreciate that it gives me the power to shine the spotlight on other Muslims, Arabs, and Middle Eastern folks around me, but you wouldn’t really say that there’s another notable American developer in the same vein,” he said. “I would very much like to not be the ‘visible Muslim developer,’ we should just be ‘developers.’ But, given the state of things, I understand that’s not where we are, and that I can be a steppingstone for a future where things are better. I take that responsibility very seriously.”
However, he stressed, Islam is a religion with a wide and varied demographic, and he can only offer one perspective as a Muslim.
“It’s hard to consider myself an ambassador for all Muslims. I like to think of myself more as a door or a window for people to look into a world they might otherwise not know, understand, or even acknowledge exists,” he said.
Ismail has also been jokingly referred to as “the imam of videogames,” a moniker he strongly dislikes.
“I don’t see myself as knowledgeable enough to be called an Imam, but when you think about it, the role of an Imam is to be the most knowledgeable person about a certain topic, and for a lot of the videogames industry, I suppose that person would actually be me,” he said.
Nonetheless, Ismail has played an active role in enlightening the games community about Islam. Recently, he utilized the wildly popular Nintendo Switch game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” as a way to educate non-Muslims about Ramadan.
As quarantine dragged on this year, gamers found solace in Nintendo’s cutesy, relaxing life simulator, through which one could virtually interact with friends by visiting each other’s island home bases.
However, while the game celebrates several other festivals, with nods to Christmas (“Toy Day” in the game), Tanabata (a yearly Japanese festival), and Easter (“Bunny Day”), Ismail noticed there was no in-game equivalent of either Eid or Ramadan.
So he created an area on his own island decked out in traditional Ramadan style, and invited Muslims and non-Muslims alike to visit him for a virtual iftar.
“For me, Ramadan is about a sense of community and togetherness, and this year it looked like I was going to do it all alone in the Netherlands,” he said. To his surprise, he ended up getting immediate responses from hundreds of people, ensuring that he did not spend the month entirely alone.
According to Konash, there is a clear double standard when it comes to showcasing other religions in the media.
“Things that are normal to our culture — such as the hijab — can be mistakenly viewed as propaganda by gamers from other cultures, but in many other media examples, clear allusions to Christianity, like nuns or churches, are seen as normal,” he said.
However things do seem to be taking a turn for the better. Tariq Mukhttar, another Saudi game developer, told Arab News that as a participant in “all things video games” for more than two decades, he had witnessed a change in attitude in gaming towards Arabs and Muslims.
“As Hollywood changes, so does the video game landscape. Driven by market forces, immigrants entering the workforce, or the desire to enrich the medium with fresh art, culture and history, the industry has been especially welcoming and tolerant to diversity and inclusivity, where minorities are precious,” he said.
Mukhttar said he felt there was new incentive to (staff the industry) with people of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, even though it remains a predominantly Western industry.
“I have experienced a welcoming, almost protective, attitude towards minorities and people of color. The games industry has wrapped their arms around their diverse members in defiance. It has always been an example of tolerance and promotion of a friendly environment fighting against toxicity,” he said.
“It’s comforting to see the vide game industry hold steadfast to a more tolerant and inclusive set of morals,” he continued. “I think we will continue to see a rise in positive representation of Muslims and Arabs in the medium to push back established stereotypes.”


King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims

King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims
Updated 14 April 2021

King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims

King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims

RIYADH: King Salman on Tuesday offered his best wishes to the Muslim world on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan. 
The comments came as the king chaired the weekly government meeting virtually. 
He also instructed that pilgrims be given the best possible services during the holy month, which for a second year will be observed under strict protocols to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus. 


Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks

Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks
Updated 14 April 2021

Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks

Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks
  • The guide consists of six main chapters, and also includes methods for maintaining and restoring art

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has published a guide for government agencies and institutions wishing to acquire artworks created by Saudi artists.
The guide falls under the framework of a royal order directing government agencies to acquire national artworks and handicraft products for their headquarters, according to a directory prepared by the culture ministry.
Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan said the order, which was based on directives from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, provided the greatest support for the visual arts sector in the Kingdom, and for the nation’s artists.
He said the guide provides basic information, including the processes of procurement, acquisition, art collections, restoration, maintenance and preserving the integrity of artworks, in a way that guarantees the creation of a national art market and fosters relations between the artist and the buyer.
The guide consists of six main chapters, and also includes explanations on the importance of respecting intellectual property rights.


Nazaha oversees 176 arrests in Saudi corruption crackdown

Nazaha oversees 176 arrests in Saudi corruption crackdown
Nazaha has continued to ramp up crackdowns on corruption, fraud and bribery in Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
Updated 13 April 2021

Nazaha oversees 176 arrests in Saudi corruption crackdown

Nazaha oversees 176 arrests in Saudi corruption crackdown
  • The pair had opened commercial records and bank accounts before handing them to expatriates in return for a monthly fee

JEDDAH: Saudi authorities have arrested 176 citizens and expatriates, including government ministry employees, for alleged involvement in corruption.
In a statement, the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) said those arrested include employees of the defense, interior, national guard, finance, health, justice, municipal, rural affairs and housing, education, transport, information, and human resources and social development ministries, as well as workers from Saudi Customs, the General Authority of the Red Crescent and the National Water Co.
Charges leveled against the employees cover bribery, abuse of power and forgery charges. They were arrested in 971 inspection raids carried out by Nazaha teams in the last month.
Arrests were made following investigations into 700 people suspected of corruption. Nazaha said that legal procedures are being completed before the accused are referred to courts.
The authority called on Saudis to report suspicious activities involving financial or administrative corruption by contacting the toll free number 980, the email @nazaha.gov.sa or the fax number 0114420057.
Nazaha has continued to ramp up crackdowns on corruption, fraud and bribery in the Kingdom over the past year. Recent activities include the arrest of 65 Saudis and expats in February this year, 48 of whom were government employees from seven different ministries. Charges included bribery, abuse of influence and power, as well as fraud and forgery.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Arrests were made following investigations into 700 people suspected of corruption.

• Charges leveled against those arrested include bribery, abuse of power and forgery charges.

“Nazaha is standing up against financial and administrative corruption,” Majed Garoub, a lawyer, told Arab News. “The crackdown on corruption is a reality and we’re witnessing its success every time we hear the good news of these arrests.”
In March, two Saudi citizens were sentenced to 28 years in jail and fined up to $3.47 million after an investigation exposed their roles in an organized crime gang that laundered money overseas.
The pair had opened commercial records and bank accounts before handing them to expatriates in return for a monthly fee. They allowed expats to invest in their commercial unit, use their bank accounts, and deposit money they had obtained illegally and transfer it abroad.
In November last year, Nazaha arrested 22 people after seizing more than SR600 million ($160 million) in what was described as “the largest case of corruption in the Kingdom.”

 


Worshippers flock to Grand Mosque in Makkah as dawn breaks on Ramadan

Worshippers flock to Grand Mosque in Makkah as dawn breaks on Ramadan
Updated 14 April 2021

Worshippers flock to Grand Mosque in Makkah as dawn breaks on Ramadan

Worshippers flock to Grand Mosque in Makkah as dawn breaks on Ramadan
  • Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic fails to dampen the true spirit of the holy month

JEDDAH: The holy month of Ramadan is a favorite of Muslims as they focus on their inner well-being, faith and connect with their roots, religion and family.

Around the world, people prepare for the month with great passion. The most common preparation begins with grocery shopping, subtle decorations in homes and quiet corners designated for prayers, among other things.
Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia highlight their joy by sharing meals with friends and family. However, because of coronavirus health restrictions, they will not be able to enjoy its full effect this year.
Taking lessons learned from an isolated Ramadan last year, people in Saudi Arabia are instead focusing on self-care before to achieve the holy month’s main purpose: Growing closer to God through prayer and devotion.
However, people do miss the usual festivities during the month due to the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, this month generally witnesses hustle and bustle not only in markets and eateries but mosques also become full of worshippers who want to utilize this month effectively for their spiritual growth.   

Ramadan makes social distancing a bit harder to bear since it’s the month in which we feel like sharing meals the most.

Hamna Khan

This is the second Ramadan since the beginning of the pandemic. Due to the health precautions, the situation is no longer the same, as people have to be very careful.  
Hamna Khan, a Pakistani expat living in Jeddah, told Arab News: “Ramadan makes social distancing a bit harder to bear since it’s the month in which we feel like sharing meals the most.”
Palestinian student Rahaf Burchalli saw the humor of the situation, saying that her family will be putting hand sanitizer on the dining table as an appropriate addition.
For many Muslims, the month of Ramadan means going back to religious habits, such as praying on time, dedicating a part of the day to reciting the Qur’an and doing as many good deeds as possible.
Although the experience in 2021 will be different, given the nationwide curfew in place this time last year, restrictions still remain to curb the spread of coronavirus, leaving many people with more time on their hands.

It is important to organize oneself, as the routine in Ramadan is different than the rest of the year.

Rahaf Burchalli

People are planning different activities and chores to use this spare time efficiently by engaging in productive activities.
For Khan, the extra time will be spent decluttering her house for Ramadan so that it becomes easier to clean for Eid. “Since the month means a lot of time spent with food, I make sure that preparations are done ahead of time before Ramadan.”
Burchalli, on the other hand, said that her pre-Ramadan preparations are psychological, rather than physical. “The heart begins to get ready and feels reassured for the beginning of my favorite month of the year. The decoration comes after that and I think that it is essential to enter the atmosphere of Ramadan.”
She added that her preparations also involve spiritual practices such as “organizing my sleep, eating and worship times.
“It is important to organize oneself, as the routine in Ramadan is different than the rest of the year,” she said.


Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal breaks new ground

Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal breaks new ground
The Saudi Journal of Philosophical Studies (SJPS) was launched by the cultural platform Mana, which was set up two years ago. (Supplied)
Updated 14 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal breaks new ground

Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal breaks new ground
  • Philosophers from outside the Arab world contributed to the first issue, specifically from Germany and the US

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal has been issued, with its editor-in-chief saying that the country was witnessing a “tangible philosophical renaissance.”
The Saudi Journal of Philosophical Studies (SJPS) was launched by the cultural platform Mana, which was set up two years ago.
According to its editor in chief, Sarah Al-Rajhi, the principal aim of the journal was to help researchers in the Kingdom, the Arab world and the West to publish their work without any financial cost and in line with accurate scientific standards.
“Philosophy indicates the position of knowledge within any culture,” she told Arab News. “It is no secret that Saudi Arabia is currently witnessing a tangible philosophical renaissance that should have culminated in the launch of a refereed academic philosophical journal. At Mana, we aim to train researchers in philosophical writing and create a kind of accumulation in this regard. We do this on our online platform, and more systematically in our peer-reviewed journal.”
She said that the SJPS advisory board included 12 leading thinkers and philosophers from the Arab world and the West, and that this number was appropriate because each member represented an orientation and school of thought.
The scholars were chosen on the basis of precise criteria, the most important of which were their research, their recognition by the scientific research community, their “abundant philosophical production” and their geographical distribution.
The advisory board includes members from Saudi Arabia, the US, Australia, the UK, Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria.
Al-Rajhi said that the SJPS had received a large number of research papers in different languages from many countries since its launch.
“We subjected this research to close referees as the journal has a list of highly qualified referees. We apologized to some researchers whose research did not meet the required publishing standards, and we provided them with the referees’ reports that include important notes and instructions in order to help them address the deficiencies in their research and develop them.”

FASTFACTS

• The Saudi Journal of Philosophical Studies (SJPS) was launched by the cultural platform Mana, which was set up two years ago.

• The SJPS advisory board includes 12 leading thinkers and philosophers from the Arab world and the West.

• Among the open access articles are a paper from the US-Lebanese philosopher Raja Halwani.

• Another article is from Mohamed Mohamed Madian, philosophy professor at the University of Cairo.

Philosophers from outside the Arab world contributed to the first issue, specifically from Germany and the US.
The first edition of the SJPS was applauded by elite cultural figures and entities, including Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. He tweeted the issue announcement, adding: “Such a great step to enrich Saudi philosophical content.”

Such a great step to enrich Saudi philosophical content. Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan
Saudi culture minister

Al-Rajhi, in turn, expressed her gratitude for the support that the Saudi cultural community received from the ministry.
“With your continuing encouragement and support to the knowledge and cultural movement in Saudi Arabia, the future will even be brighter with more and more steps,” she replied.
She said that some of the journal’s articles were free to access for readers on the Mana platform and that issues would also be sent to Saudi and Arab universities.
Al-Rajhi, who is the co-founder of Mana, said the journal could contribute to strengthening the Kingdom’s philosophical movement and that the encouragement of academic publishing in the field of philosophy was the pinnacle of this movement.
“To write a philosophical paper in a systematic way that adheres to the accuracy and academic standards in writing, and for the scientific community to read what you write, is a great thing and a beginning that can be both built and expanded upon. Moreover, we believe that the international character of the SJPS allows Saudi researchers to learn about the research output of their colleagues around the world.”
Al-Rajhi explained what distinguished the SJPS from other Arab and international refereed journals. It did not just present research papers, but a variety of content.
“This content included an introductory essay on a philosophical topic, an introductory essay about a philosopher, an introduction to a research project, translations of two valuable texts from English into Arabic, and finally a statistical analysis of the publications of the most important international publishing houses in the second half of 2020.”
She said there was a clear philosophical activity in Saudi Arabia that nobody could ignore and that it was part of the country’s general cultural activity, adding that had it not been for the “official institutions’ support of this activity, it would not have appeared this way.”
The next desired step within the Saudi philosophy community was to teach the subject in the country’s universities as an independent academic discipline, she said.
“We have tried to create a kind of intersection between philosophy and academia, and we are hopeful that it will be a step that paves the way toward establishing the first departments of philosophical studies in Saudi universities.”
Among the open access articles are a paper from the US-Lebanese philosopher Raja Halwani, who is a philosophy professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In his abstract for the “Virtue of Integrity,” Halwani writes there is a powerful argument that integrity is not a virtue because it would be a redundant virtue, or what he calls the “redundancy objection.”
He said that integrity was usually tested when the agent was under pressure or tempted to act against their values. A virtuous person was someone who had virtues, including wisdom, and was able to act properly whenever the situation called for it.
Another article is from Mohamed Mohamed Madian, philosophy professor at the University of Cairo’s Faculty of Art.
He discusses Cornel Ronald West, a prominent left-wing African-American thinker, and his writing focuses on three levels expressing the West’s philosophy: Prophetic pragmatism, the philosopher’s concept of democracy, and the problem of racial discrimination.