Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children
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The game targets children aged between five and 11 and consists of four levels lasting 15 to 20 minutes each. Players can still play, interact with characters, and complete tasks after the game is over. (Photos/Supplied)
Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children
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Updated 15 June 2021

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children
  • Hakawati offers alternatives inspired by Arab culture, history, and language

JEDDAH: Many parents worry over their children’s screen time and gaming habits, and debates over the damaging effects of video and online games on mental health, behavior and cognitive functioning have become a staple of social conversations.

The Jeddah-based game development studio Hakawati was set up to offer alternative educational games for Arab children inspired by their culture, history, and language, while also encouraging them to raise their aspirations.
“We cannot prevent children from playing games. Parents can no longer do that,” Hakawati founder Abdullah Ba Mashmos told Arab News. “So, offering a good alternative is the best solution.”
Ba Mashmos said that keeping children busy with games also offers parents time to relax. Trying to wean off children from playing games on their devices is impossible and tiresome.
As children’s experience with the world becomes increasingly virtual, the potential harm posed by violence in online games is a major concern for Ba Mashmos and his team.
“We oppose any manifestations of violence in games,” he said. “Entertainment does not need to be violent.”
Hundreds of media reports, posts, and videos calling on parents to pay attention to their children’s online gaming activities are circulating almost daily among parents across the region.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Through stories narrated in Arabic within the game, Hakawati is bridging the scientific heritage of Arabic culture with the present.

• The interactive storytelling game takes players on a series of adventures in a safe environment.

• Hakawati is encouraging children to explore their identity and learn new things about themselves and their culture.

These warning messages invariably spike after a tragic story related to popular video games finds its way to the media.
One of the latest stories to go viral concerned a 12-year-old Egyptian boy who died from a heart attack while playing an online game known as PUBG for hours without rest.
However, many parents worry constantly about their children spending too much time playing games on screens.

We oppose any manifestations of violence in games.

Abdullah Ba Mashmos, Hakawati founder

Screen time is often seen as harmfully addictive, triggering concerns about children’s physical and social health, as well as youth suicide, family violence, and bullying.
With experience in teaching game development and programming, Ba Mashmos said that he has seen how easily online games can normalize aggressive language among children.
Hakawati Game, the fledgling studio’s first offering, is expected to be released by the end of 2021. However, a demo version is available for free.
The interactive storytelling game takes players on a series of adventures in a safe and culturally inspired environment alongside original Arabic-speaking characters.
Ba Mashmos said that the studio aims to educate, strengthen values and spark curiosity in the young by helping them develop their creativity, strategic thinking, problem-solving, and research skills.
“In this game, we focus on values, Arabic language, and science,” he said, “We want to promote science among children.”




The talented team behind the idea, which aims to offer a safe alternative to violent online games.

Through stories narrated in Arabic within the game, Hakawati is bridging the scientific heritage of Arabic culture with the present by introducing influential Arab scientists from history, enhancing the player’s interaction with the Arabic language through the characters, their names, and their sophisticated backstories.
Ba Mashmos said that scientists used to be portrayed in films and cartoons as obsessive, introverted nerds who lacked social skills.
Hakawati wants to promote a more realistic and inspirational view of science among children. “We want them to understand that well-educated people are the ones who can do great things,” he said.
The game targets children aged between five and 11 and consists of four levels lasting 15 to 20 minutes each. Players can still play, interact with characters, and complete tasks after the game is over.
By creating an original game that matches children’s reality, Hakawati is encouraging children to explore their identity and learn new things about themselves and their culture.
“We are a community of scientists, ambitious and smart people, and we want to erase all kinds of negative stereotypes,” Ba Mashmos said.
The game also promotes diversity and inclusivity.
“Diversity was another major focus when developing our characters. We brought characters from different backgrounds and races with a special focus on the Arab region,” he said. “We also made sure to represent disabilities.”
Hakawati (@HakawatiAR) is believed to be the only studio in the Kingdom focused on developing games solely for children.  
Although game development is still in its infancy in Saudi Arabia, Ba Mashmos believes that his young and diverse team of different nationalities and backgrounds will help the studio prosper.
Hakawati’s developers, software engineers, designers, and artificial intelligence specialists are all based in Saudi Arabia, he said.
The studio relies mainly on and invests in Saudi-based talents, whether in building their team or allowing young members of the Saudi development, design, and animation community to take part in their work when needed.
Hakawati’s biggest goal is to be a Middle East pioneer in game development for children and also expand its audience around the world.
“Our biggest challenge is time — games and development take a lot of our time. At the same time challenges are also increasing quickly.”
Hakawati took part in MITEF Saudi Arabia this year, a program organized by MIT Enterprise Forum in collaboration with Bab Rizq Jameel, and was were among 15 semifinalists out of over 500 startup applicants.
The studio also among finalists competing at the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator staged by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.


Saudi Arabia’s diverse topography attracts stargazers amid summer vibes

Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Arabia’s diverse topography attracts stargazers amid summer vibes

Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
  • Its mountains, valleys, plains, deserts are perfect escape for people trying to avoid bright city lights to observe night sky
  • Stargazing offers an obvious opportunity for the Kingdom to further diversify its tourism offering as it seeks to boost non-oil industries in line with Vision 2030

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s size and diverse topography make it an ideal location for astronomy enthusiasts. Its mountains, valleys, sand dunes, hills, plains and large deserts are a perfect escape for people trying to avoid the bright city lights to observe the night sky.

Mulham Hindi, an astronomy researcher, told Arab News that the best place to observe the night sky is far away from light pollution caused by human settlements.
“It is also best in locations where cloud cover is low. With its different terrains and huge size, Saudi Arabia is a suitable place for observing stars and even building observatories,” Hindi said.
He added that there are many locations in Saudi Arabia that are perfect places for astronomers and stargazers, citing Bani Malik, 150 kilometers south of Taif as a prime example.
“The (height above sea level) of that mountainous area reduces the percentage of moisture and atmospheric impurity,” he explained. “Its throughout-the-year cloud cover is less than 25 percent.”
Hindi also mentioned Al-Figrah mountain, west of Madinah, as one of the best areas for stargazing, as the mountain stands an estimated 6,000 feet above sea level.
“With their moderate weather, the northwestern regions of the Kingdom — which include AlUla, the Red Sea Projects, and NEOM — are among the areas with the least light pollution, (so) stargazers regularly visit,” he added.
Hindi explained that the observation of the stars and planets is deeply rooted in Saudi culture, particularly in the nomadic lifestyle prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula before the discovery of oil.
“Stars are (mentioned in) many Arabic poems that were composed hundreds of years ago and are still cited today,” he said. “It is also part of Saudi culture to observe stars while moving from one place to another, especially in the desert areas.”
Hindi also noted that the night sky above the Kingdom has become a popular subject for photographers in recent years. “These photographers have enriched exhibitions with very beautiful photos of the starry sky of the Kingdom, its distinctive terrains and heritage sites,” he said.
From a scientific perspective, he pointed out, the development and growing popularity of astronomy have encouraged Saudi astronomers to examine the planets, galaxies and stars more thoroughly than ever before, producing “scientific studies and research (that) can significantly contribute to the study of astronomy.”
A few days before his death earlier this month, the head of the astronomy and space department at King Abdul Aziz University (KAU), Dr. Hasan Asiri, spoke to the Saudi Press Agency about the difference between the three main types of terrain for stargazing in the Kingdom — deserts, plains and mountains.
“Deserts are characterized by their aridity and lack of light pollution. They include the desert of the Empty Quarter, the Nafud desert, Al-Dahna desert and Bajada desert, which is located to the west of Tabuk region,” Asiri said.
He added that plains are characterized by stable atmospheric layers and low temperatures and humidity levels. “These include the plains of NEOM, AMAALA the Red Sea islands, Al-Wajh, Al-Shuaibah and Al-Silaa region located to the south of Al-Wajh province.”
Mountains, he explained, typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust. He listed Al-Figrah Mountains, west of Madinah; Taif’s Al-Shafa and Al-Hada Mountains; and Mount “Ral,” near Al-Wajh’s Al-Manjor Center as good spots for astronomers. “Several cities can also be added to the list of sites suitable for observational astronomy, namely the northwestern city of AlUla, which is considered one of the Kingdom’s most prominent tourist destinations, in addition to Hail and Tayma, found to the southwest of the city of Tabuk,” he added.
Asiri said that ‘stargazing tourism’ offers an obvious opportunity for the Kingdom to further diversify its tourism offering as it seeks to boost non-oil industries in line with Saudi Vision 2030.
“This issue interests many people, especially now that the Kingdom is steadily moving forward towards establishing an actual tourism sector and ensuring its sustainability through a comprehensive national development plan,” he said.
“Establishing additional stargazing reserves allows us to create new and exceptional tourist destinations that are at the same time entertaining and educational,” he continued. “It also enables us to organize astronomical events, such as world space weeks or astronomy days, activate public and private space domes, and participate in scientific activities related to astronomical events — such as observing solar and lunar eclipses, shooting stars and planets. This approach would combine science with the joy of observing the night sky.”
The Kingdom is already home to several observatories, he noted, including those in Makkah, Al-Wajh and Halat Ammar, as well as the mobile observatories in Sudair, Tumair, Shaqra, Qassim, Dammam, Madinah and Hail. Meanwhile, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Center for Crescents and Astronomy, located at the top of Makkah’s Clock Tower, is considered the largest network of astronomical telescopes in the world.
According to the head of the Qatif Astronomy Society, Dr. Anwar Al-Mohammed, the Milky Way is one of the best astronomical phenomena to observe.
“It is the galaxy in which our sun and the solar system are located. It (consists of) more than 100 billion solar masses,” he explained. “At night, the Milky Way appears as a band of light in the sky and its appearance differs between one region and another based on the level of light pollution.”
Al-Mohammed noted that the Red Sea Development Company is currently working on turning an area of the Tabuk region between the provinces of Umluj and Al-Wajh into an “International Starlight Reserve,” by limiting the use of unnatural lighting in the Red Sea Project at night.
This, he said, could qualify the area as an International Dark Sky Reserve (a region characterized by “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment”), which requires the approval of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
If it were to be granted membership, he explained, “it would be joining more than 100 international sites that have abided by strict measures when supporting their communities to achieve this goal, and restore the amazing relationship between mankind and the stars.”


Saudi study documents safety of AstraZeneca

The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi study documents safety of AstraZeneca

The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
  • No major side effects were observed, no breakthrough infection was reported

JEDDAH: A Saudi study has documented the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine used to protect people against the coronavirus.

The results of the study, titled the “Safety and Reactogenicity of the ChAdOx1 (AZD1222) COVID-19 Vaccine in Saudi Arabia,” were shared on Friday by the deputy minister of preventive health, Abdullah Assiri.
The cross-sectional study, conducted on 1,592 randomly selected vaccinees, measured the “estimated the safety and reactogenicity of the ChAdOx1-S vaccine as administered to adults after the first dose.”
No major side effects were observed and no breakthrough infection was reported during the observation period.
The results showed that 34.7 percent of the studied group reported a reaction after the first dose while none of the group had any reaction after the second.
Some of the side effects reported among the group were injection site pain in 30.5 percent, musculoskeletal symptoms in 27.5 percent, while 62.4 percent of males experienced more fever than females (37.6 percent).
The study also concluded that the rate of post-vaccine COVID-19 infection was 0.5 percent with zero hospitalization.

INNUMBERS

524,584 Total cases

505,003 Recoveries

8,226 Deaths

11,355 Active cases

“The data showed that the vaccine is well tolerated with differences in the reactogenicity between males and females. In the follow-up period, there was no reported COVID-19 infection, hospital admissions or death,” the study found. “However, the prevalence of the different variants in Saudi (Arabia) is not reported. In an international phase clinical trial, a single dose of the Ad26.COV2.S vaccine showed 67 percent efficacy in preventing moderate to severe–critical COVID-19 as evaluated 14-28 days after the dose administration. The efficacy against severe–critical COVID-19 was 77-85 percent as evaluated 14-28 days post after administration.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia on Friday reported 14 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 8,226.
There were 1,187 new cases, meaning that 524,584 people in the country had contracted the disease. A total of 11,355 cases remained active, of which 1,395 patients were in critical condition.
In addition, the ministry said that 1,176 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 505,003.
Meanwhile, 26,395,789 people in the country to date have received a jab against COVID-19, including 1,458,482 elderly people.


Saudi Arabia will not tolerate human trafficking crimes, says attorney general

Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Arabia will not tolerate human trafficking crimes, says attorney general

Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
  • “The system stipulates a number of severe penalties for those who carry out any of the criminal descriptions”

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution will not tolerate trafficking in persons and will take legal measures against the perpetrators of such crimes, the Kingdom’s attorney general has said.

Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib said that the victims of such crimes would receive special attention from the competent care authorities.

His statement was made in response to World Day Against Trafficking on July 30.

“The Saudi state, since its inception, has been protecting rights and freedoms from all forms of crime and exploitation, emphasizing the Basic Law of Governance and all the systems in force in the Kingdom and international treaties and charters, and designated an independent system concerned with this crime — the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law,” Al-Mujib said.

“The Public Prosecution is responsible for filing a criminal case against violators of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, as well as inspecting and monitoring shelters for victims of trafficking in persons in order to protect them,” he said. “The system stipulates a number of severe penalties for those who carry out any of the criminal descriptions.”

The bureau has also allocated an independent department to investigate such crimes and undertake the related procedures to deal with them.

Meanwhile, president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC), Dr. Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad, said that the Kingdom was at the forefront of anti-trafficking efforts.

He said that the Kingdom was deeply committed to the protection and promotion of human rights. It had focused on criminalizing and combating trafficking in persons crimes through a variety of measures and procedures that guaranteed human dignity and protected against all forms of degradation and exploitation.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under the direction of King Salman and the supervision of the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, has made progress in its ranking on TIP (Trafficking In Persons) index reports putting itself on par with developed countries,” Al-Awwad said.

“The Kingdom continues to exert significant and relentless efforts to combat trafficking in persons crimes through a variety of measures, most notably the formation of the National Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee, the passing of adequate laws and legislations that guarantee the protection of victims and the preservation of their rights,” he said.

Saudi Arabia had made domestic and international commitments by signing and ratifying agreements and conventions, he said.

Al-Awwad said that the Kingdom did not limit its efforts to the passing of laws and legislation that combated trafficking in persons. Rather, it made sure those laws were implemented and respected by creating initiatives and mechanisms to ensure implementation.

Saudi Arabia’s Anti-TIP National Referral Mechanism (NRM) created a national reference and framework to guarantee better Anti-Trafficking in Persons cooperation.

The NRM also helped to raise awareness about the regulatory, legal and procedural aspects of the issue, created principles for dealing with Trafficking in Persons cases, and clarified the roles and responsibilities assigned to various government agencies.

The NRM further helped to promote victim protection, ensured they were able to access the range of services provided to them, and contributed to tracking and addressing cases.

Al-Awwad said that these efforts affirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to the protection of human rights as a deeply rooted principle in the Saudi quest to preserve human dignity.

He said that the committee worked to enhance cooperation with various government agencies, NGOs and international organizations.

Alongside other measures, the committee assigned a national TIP crimes team and organized a variety of training programs to build national Anti-Trafficking in Persons capacities, he said.


Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics
Updated 31 July 2021

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Naif Mosallam Alblawi has been the general manager of international relations and cooperation at the General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) since August 2017.

Alblawi is in charge of developing and implementing strategies with international statistics offices and organizations and monitoring assigned deportment at GASTAT on the international statistical press release to ensure the information and data included for Saudi Arabia is accurate and up-to-date.

He also served as the director of partnerships and statistical coordination at GASTAT from August 2017 to March 2020 and was responsible for supervising and developing a methodology and framework for strategic partnerships as well as preparing the agreements and the special memorandums of understanding and ensuring the clarity and quality of these agreements.

Alblawi also held the position of international data supply unit supervisor, and who established this unit to provide international organizations with data.

He worked as the team leader of the united-ethylene department at the Saudi Arabia Basic Industrial Co. from July 2007 to February 2013. He is known as a highly motivated and professional individual, with an ability to communicate and handle the corporate and multinational environment.

Alblawi attended several international conferences and events. He is a member of the MASDAR committee, a member of the coordinating committees of GASTAT, a member of the Sustainable Development Goals, a member of the Global Innovation Index committee and a member of the UN Statistical Commission that created the high-level group.

He received double majors in international business and a management minor in economics from King’s College, in the US.


Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo
Saudi Minister Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh visits the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo as part of his official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo
  • The minister gave instructions to furnish the mosque — one of the most important Islamic monuments in the Balkans — with 4,000 square meters of the highest-quality carpets

SARAJEVO: Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh recently visited the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo as part of his official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was accompanied by Saudi Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Osama bin Dakhil Al-Ahmadi and the director of the King Fahd Cultural Center, Dr. Mohammed bin Hassan Al-Asheikh.
The minister gave instructions to furnish the mosque — one of the most important Islamic monuments in the Balkans — with 4,000 square meters of the highest-quality carpets.
He also urged that the mosque increase its education and advocacy programs to disseminate moderation, promote a culture of tolerance and coexistence, in accordance with Islamic values.