Here’s an interesting new video game for you to ponder as you go about your day. Earlier this week, jihadist members of the African territory Mali published a web game to Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum (AMAF). The game is a response to the French militarization in Mali nearly fifty years after dissolving its colonized government and creating an Independent territory. And what’s the goal? To destroy French planes, of course!
Surely this will affect the whole violent video game debate. Extremist Islam propaganda finds a footing in U.S.! Through video games! I can already hear the politicians vowing to crush the medium which allows such anti-American nationalism.
But in all seriousness, the enemy in Islamic Mali carry the French standard, so nobody in the U.S. will care.
Okay, now I’m done.
Hugely bitter sarcasm aside, I haven’t been hearing the serious discussion I’d like to think Islamic Mali deserves.
SO WHY DOES ISLAMIC MALI DESERVE ATTENTION?
It’s not from some misguided fear of radical propaganda threatening the idyllic U.S. lifestyle. For the most part, your average American citizen wouldn’t give Islamic Mali a few casual minutes of gameplay to see what the big deal is. It’s not going to change lives. It hardly has the power. But what it does give us is a strange parallel from which to view our own fiction.
I want you to take a second and Google ‘Islamic representation in movies.’ You find about two and a half million pages. If you change ‘movies’ to video games, you’ll get roughly ten times the results. Admittedly, Google results are pretty far from actual legitimate statistical research, but it should give you a scope of the issue in question: video games are serious business. Humans have found a remarkable medium in video games through which we can express ourselves–and especially so our fears.
When you looked at the title of this article and saw the phrase ‘Islamic extremist video games,’ I’d wager you had a fairly visceral reaction. What, exactly, does Islamic Mali look like?
It looks a little bit like Space Invaders. Forbes‘ coverage of the game describes it as ‘primitive’ and, later in the article, ‘pathetic’:
The relatively primitive game features a welcome page displaying the words “Muslim Mali,” along with a jihadi poem inciting jihad against the unbelievers. Once a player clicks “Play,” a message appears saying: “Muslim Brother, go ahead and repel the French invasion against Muslim Mali.” The player’s own aircraft is painted with Al-Qaeda’s black flag logo, while the French aircraft are painted with a French flag. The goal of the game is to shoot down as many French aircraft as possible, however, if the player sustains enough direct hits to be shot down, a message appears saying: “Congratulations, you have been martyred.”
But despite being exceptionally low quality, is Islmaic Mali at all different from the games we produce as a free-thinking country? I intentionally used a Call of Duty screen-grab as the header image for this article to make a very vivid contrast. Let’s pretend, for a second, that all graphic and non-graphic video game violence was systematically banned (we’ll leave the should it/shouldn’t it debate for another day) and developers could no longer use scapegoat stereotypes (terrorists, the French, … are communists still a popular trope?) as ‘the enemy.’ Go ahead and make a list of games you’ve played in the last year that would still exist. I can think of maybe–maybe–two.
So here’s your daily, free of charge brain-bender: are today’s video games solely reactionary? (Especially when it comes to war games?) With a controller in our hands, we’ve stumbled upon a means of becoming easy, everyday heroes. Have we settled into a niche of using video games to comfortably destroy our demons?
Does it invalidate the social progress we could making?