- The Political Battlefield of Pro-Arab Video Games on Palestinian Screens
Like everyone else in this Internet café in Ramallah, I rely on the place to offer me a cup of strong Arabic coffee as I wait for my e-mails to download on a slow, antiquated modem. It has become part of my afternoon routine. I am alone however in bringing earplugs. It is not because of the bombs and shootings, although it helps (in early 2003, we are in the midst of the Second Intifada and the Israeli military is wreaking havoc in town at least once an hour), but because practically everyone in the center is screaming, throwing insults and threats that bounce off the barren walls: "I'm going to get you"; "You are over"; "Bastard! Just wait till I get you back." No, the young men (most of the clients are between the ages of twelve and twenty-five, very few of them female) are not shouting at one another but at characters in video games.
While on a visit to a family in Jenin a few months later, a girl of twelve urges me to play a video game with her. "You have to play . . . you have to try this. This is the best game ever. It's by Hezbollah . . . it's the first game where you can shoot Israelis," she explains, trying to tempt me. Special Force had just been released by Hezbollah, and she had downloaded it for free from their Web site.1 In her excitement, the girl gives me a video game history lesson:
In all the other games you can shoot Saddam [Hussein], you can shoot Iran and Libya . . . Syria is also a target. My friends and I would try to turn the planes around to shoot at Israel but the game wouldn't allow it. . . . You can't shoot at America and Europe either. . . . I learned from [a friend] that Hezbollah changed the rules . . . so of course all of us here now only play this . . . well we also play [what we nicknamed the] Haram ash-Sharif game [Under Siege], where we get to shoot the soldiers who started the Intifada . . . it's our revenge on Israel.2 We get to shoot the Israelis. We get to blow up Markava [Israeli military] tanks!
I had not known that war games often made their targets Arab or Muslim countries and that it was not until these "pro-Arab" games were released that kids could shoot the other way.
Although privileged in having a computer and Internet access in her home, this twelve-year-old was not unique in her love of pro-Arab video games. As I discovered through spending time in for-profit Internet centers, nonprofit computer labs, and living rooms all across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, these video games were what most teenagers and those in their early twenties were busy doing while behind a computer.
Based on ﬁeldwork carried out in 2003 and 2004 in which I observed computer users in various locations; interviewed players, parents, and computer-center owners in the Palestinian [End Page 536] territories; and surveyed mainstream Western press coverage, I focus in this essay on three pro-Arab video games. I begin with a description of the games and then provide the population's response to them. Next, I look at the controversies surrounding them and emanating from the West—from charges of Islamic propaganda to the effects of media violence. Finally, I situate the games and their controversies within the context of Palestinian society.
Rather than disdain video games as lowbrow, irrelevant child's play, the concerns in this essay assume that video games are no less important than other media. I address how they function as disseminators of ideologies, how they employ racial and national meaning, and how they reinforce dominant ideas or, conversely, challenge hegemony. Moreover, given the reliance on fieldwork and interviews with players, most of whom are teenagers, this essay challenges theorists who eschew media use (and description of that use), especially with regard to children, who presumably have nothing to say—or cannot say anything—about their experiences. Like the...