The exhibition "Forbidden Games" features video games written and distributed independent of the entertainment industry by activist media, academies and ideological groups, as a tool for addressing political and social issues.
Forbidden Games: 1.12.06 - 27.1.07, The Digital ArtLab, Holon
The first computer games were developed for research purposes, to prove scientific ideas, and less so for pleasure. In 1947 the first computer game was created in the United States, using several knobs to adjust the speed and direction of a missile represented by a dot as it flew toward a target. Five years later, in 1952, a Ph.D. student at Cambridge University developed the tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses) game "OXO" to illustrate his thesis about human-computer interaction. This situation continued for over a decade: scientists created games for super computers in research labs. In the 1970s progress was made in miniaturization of computer chips and the development of personal computers, which enabled the creation of games on platforms accessible to the public. The two routes in which the market evolved since were the home consoles connected to the television set and the arcades where people went to play games.
Now the video game industry is one of the leading entertainment industries in the world. This is manifested in growing exposure to larger audiences, which, in turn, yields substantial increase in the game industry (the industry's revenues for 2003 reached 31 billion dollar; second only to the Hollywood cinema industry whose income in that year stood at some 44 billion dollars, which makes video games a highly significant factor in the Western entertainment industry).
The industry produces alternative reality games, community and strategy games, most predominant among them is the war games genre. The realistic war game, which has always been popular, has gained momentum in recent years concurrent with the increased media use of terms such as "the axis of evil" and "the war against terror." The global war against terror has led to intensification of nationalistic and patriotic feelings among gamers, and gaming companies have identified the potential and hurried to issue ideological fighting settings. Western gaming companies develop countless realistic war games with a clear-cut – not to say dichotomous – division between "good" and "evil." "The American/European/Israeli hero" will usually belong to some security force sent to thwart the sinister missions of the forces of evil threatening the free world.
Playwright Harold Pinter, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, proposed in his Nobel lecture to write a short speech for the American President, George W. Bush, encapsulating the dichotomous world view led by the US today: "God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it."
The world view promoted by the "war against terror," simplistically formulated by President Bush after 9/11: "You are either with us or with the terrorists," sweepingly divides the world into good and evil without middle tones. The map of the world is divided into "friend" areas which should be strengthened and "enemy" zones which should be taken over. The rules are clear, and so is the mission. Just as in war games. At times it seems as though the excessive use of digital simulators, for training and in various war games, has totally distorted the ability to read and analyze reality. Objection to the policy now led by the United States strives to unearth the simplicity of the dichotomous view and the blindness it spawns, thus presenting it as bankrupt, unfit to confront global terror. The continuous failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and, as of the writing of these lines – Lebanon, only reinforce the feeling that there is room for a different way of thinking and a more intricate world view.
The exhibition "Forbidden Games" features video games written and distributed independent of the entertainment industry by activist media, academies and ideological groups, as a tool for addressing political and social issues. The alternative introduced by the games in the exhibition is embodied in the political and ideological content, but also in their suggestion for reconsideration of the potential inherent in the medium, the language, and the open code for creating a single package, combining values with hours of pleasure and suspense. The games are divided into war games that present antithetical narratives and opposed views to those presented today in the Western media; web games ranging from swift "gut responses" to topical issues, such as the Lebanon war, the Gulf war, etc., through games by activists criticizing the ideology currently dominating global politics, to performance games which require participation of the gamer's entire body.
As part of the "war against terror" and the polar world view it generates, media identities and images fostering it are also created. When you live in the Middle East, you cannot avoid the image ascribed to you by Western media. The conceivers of the games in Arab countries try to reinstate themselves with the responsibility for creating their own image which, to their mind, has been distorted by the Western media. They strive to recount the story behind the conflict with Israel and guide the youth playing computer games in constituting their knowledge of the world.
The game UnderSiege developed by the Syrian Afkar Media () is based on the modern history of Palestine. It focuses on the life of a Palestinian family between 1999 and 2002, during the Second Intifada. All levels of the game are based on real stories. The game is suitable for children over the age of 13. It contains graphical violence and shooting at soldiers, but not at civilians. The game does not include suicide bombing or other terrorist simulations. Its action is inspired, as aforesaid, by real stories of Palestinian society, as documented by the United Nations (1978-2004). According to the UN, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied land, and thus military actions performed by local fighters against occupying forces are considered legitimate.
The introduction to the game Special Force developed by Hezbollah, shows the explosion of an Israeli tank. While the computer loads a sequence of drills, among them shooting into Ariel Sharon's forehead which grants the player 10 points, a flurry around the burning of the Israeli flag is presented. When the game came out in 2003, it became a hit in Beirut's southern neighborhoods.
(t)Error by Robert Praxmarer (soundtrack: Jennifer Carlile) is a game in real space, criticizing the politics of war and the gaming industry at the same time. The rules are simple: the player must choose the part he wishes to enact among the participants in the war (Osama Bin Laden, George W. Bush, Tony Blair), and then, regardless of the chosen figure, to collect as many dollars and oil pumps as possible, to kill civilians and demolish houses. As a game and an installation, Terror offers much greater interaction than the average computer game. The player must run, jump, duck. He becomes an active participant, readily adopting an influential identity in the game through which he experiences the impacts of the political and military systems. The player's acts and his use of his body are where the game experience intersects with the meaning and repercussions of war and politics. Thus the difference between playing war games by moving one's finger and active participation that forces the entire body to strain itself can be fathomed. It thus provokes reflection on the link between the game industry and simulations for military training, and on the way in which the game serves as preparation for the real thing.
Developed by newsgaming.com presents the wounding of innocent people in the "war against terror" by using a simple equation: air raids kill civilians and destroy houses, a move that leads to an increase in the number of terrorists. Players must try to send "sophisticated bombs" and strike terrorists walking amidst civilians. The bombings inevitably strike civilians as well. Other civilians consequently gather to mourn the innocent victims and some of them become terrorists. In other words, the player of September 12 can never win. A localized success ensures the failure of the entire mission. The war against terror generates terror. After several bombings one can start examining notions that have become highly prevalent in the media and the military discourse, such as "targeted killing," "surgical operation," "target bank," "sterile area." etc.
Gulf War 2
Gulf War 2
Developed by Dermot O'Connor is a Flash simulation rather than a game. It presents a plausible scenario for the reality in the Middle East following the American invasion of Iraq. The game has only one possible outcome, which is American victory at the cost of billions of dead Muslims. Along the way we are exposed to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, changes of government in Arab countries, the war between India and Pakistan, etc. While in reality it turned out that the scenario offered by the game is far-fetched, O'Connor based it on articles from leading American newspapers and on reports of the former National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, sketching a picture of possible of escalation in the entire Middle East into chaos following an American invasion of Iraq. Some may say this is a one-sided scenario by a member of the anti-American war camp. On the other hand, since the war in Iraq is far from over, and other wars still take place in the region – who knows…
The player must blow himself up on the street, and attempt to kill as many men, women and children as he can. The programmer of the game wishes to clarify that he is an American youth and does not support terror. He is neither Jewish nor Arab, and has little interest in what goes on in the Middle East. The only message he wishes to convey through the game is that people who blow themselves up on the street are stupid. In addition he wants any question concerning his intentions in programming the game to be posed directly to him and not be based on various articles published in the past. The game elicited heavy criticism when it was launched, including an appeal by US Congress members to site owners urging them to remove it from their website, claiming it is a "distasteful and offensive game [that] makes light of the suffering of thousands of Americans, Israelis, and others who have been victimized by suicide terrorism." The question arises whether the role reversal, the fact that the gamer plays the suicide killer, indeed makes the horrors of the game unbearable? Whether there is a difference between the animated body parts in the game and the horror pictures on which we feed daily on television?
The game addresses the fine balance between security and citizen rights, while examining the situation in American airports. Only 45 days after the attack on the Twin Towers, the "Patriot Act" was legislated in the United States, granting wide powers to the American government and the FBI with regard to surveillance and acquiring information about US citizens, all as part of the "war against terror." The Act was widely criticized for being a means to trample human rights, and its efficacy as a security means was questioned. Increasing the security inspection in airports and the restriction of movement are some of the sanctions currently taken in the US, and the game Airport Insecurity by Persuasive Games sets out to examine their effectiveness. The game is based on processes of inspection and surveillance employed by the US government. The player must stand in line for a security check in the airport, pass his belongings through an X-ray scanner, deal with other passengers, some impatient, get rid of objects that may be perceived as suspicious, and avoid "forbidden" acts and being caught by the airport authorities. The effectiveness of airport security practices in the game is based on reports largely kept from the public, as they usually indicate that airport security fails in keeping arms from airplanes. The restriction of movement and the endless queuing are emphasized by virtue of the fact that the game is played on the cell phone intended to allow for freedom of movement and communication, and can also function as a highly efficient surveillance tool.
War in the North
A game conceived by Alon Serafi (graphics: Elad Goldschmidt) is an excellent example showing how the relative ease of programming Flash games for the web makes them an immediate tool for responding to current affairs. The game went online several days after the outbreak of the war in Lebanon. Serafi created a simple war game where the player must mark targets – launchers, houses – for IDF aircrafts. As the game progresses, indices, such as losses on the Israeli side and on the Lebanese side, the damage to the capacity of the enemy – Hezbollah, and the level of objection to Israel in world public opinion, are examined. The game is a faithful reflection of the Israeli perception of the war. It begins with international objection to Israel even before the first shot is fired. As the number of Israeli casualties rises, objection of the international public opinion to the war decreases, and the Hezbollah's fire-delivering force equals, and even surpasses that of the Israeli Air Force.
Several "Nasrallah Games" on the web were created during the war. They are intended to allow for quick and simple outlet to what is apparently a widespread impulse: to hit, crush, silence, bomb, and in short – to render Hassah Nasrallah null and void. Through these games, anyone is invited to try to do to Hezbollah leader, what the IDF has failed. These games are akin to a mirror reflecting the frustration which the organization succeeds in eliciting in Israeli society. Their professed target is indeed Nasrallah himself, but their real goal is to consolidate the self-image of the strongest army and nation in the Middle East, that humiliates its enemies rather then vice versa. Perhaps these games are merely an outlet for hidden frustrations. After all, what were the government's objectives upon going out to war?
Wild West Bank
Wild West Bank
In the instructions for the game Wild West Bank the player is offered to end the Occupation: "This is your opportunity to evacuate the settlements and get Israel out of the Occupied Territories." The game is an invitation for an event against the Occupation held at the square in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on June 17, 2005. In order to drive Israel out of the Occupied Territories one must remove the caravans by a single click, and the houses by a double-click; in order to remove the settlements, one must drag the soldiers back behind the Green Line, an act which is followed by a cry of joy coming from their mouths.
Global Conflicts: Palestine
Global Conflicts: Palestine
The game offers one to get closer to the goings-on in the Middle East. The gamer plays a young journalist who has just arrived in Israel. He tries to shape the region's future in a peaceful direction. The player must complete his assignment at all cost, navigating between Palestinian and Israeli sources of information to complete his article. Will the player be able to remain objective and gain the trust of both sides as the conflict escalates? What happens when people around him become more than mere sources? The game enables the player to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is informed by real personal stories that present the conflict from different perspectives.
War on Terror
War on Terror
The creator of the game The War on Terror wishes to clarify that it is not his intention to hurt the victims of 9-11. Furthermore, he does not condone terror. The message transmitted by means of this game is that declaring war on entire nations in order to find a number of terrorists is the most effective means of fostering more terror. This game is constructed like a classic pinball game. The player's role is to fire missiles on what looks like a city in a Muslim country and to prevent the missiles from returning to New York, which is located under the player's plane. The destruction of the Muslim city obviously leads to the unavoidable destruction of New York. Like other games in this exhibition, this game expresses an opinion prevalent in circles opposed to the "war on terror" – namely, that the war on terror is the greatest catalyst to the production of more terror.
Utz-Rutz and Tzirim (Wolmert against Rallah)
These games are animated games that were created during the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. In contrast to numerous "Nasrallah" games that focus on venting the frustration of many Israeli concerning their country's inability to eliminate Nasrallah, these games highlight the difficult experience of life under fire. In "Wolmert against Rallah," the earlier of these two games, Hassan Nasrallah and Ehud Olmert are intent upon an incessant bombardment that leads to the total destruction of their cities. In the game Utz-Rutz, the actor must flee attacks from the air by hiding among houses in a city that could be either Israeli or Lebanese.
The Counterstrike games are shooter games developed upon the game engine of the game Half Life. In the original game, which is still considered to be one of the most popular ones in this genre, the actor was a member of a counter terror unit trying to catch terrorists. The three games exhibited here were developed in the West Bank. Each player may choose the location in which the game unfolds, and decide whether he belongs to a terror organization or to a counter terror unit. He can thus determine the nature of his mission – to save individuals that have been kidnapped, to prevent them from being saved, etc.
Fallujah Police Station Raid, Kuma War
The Kuma war games enable the player to experience some of the most difficult battles in the history of war, since they are based on real events. The game's engine is the basis onto which one may download new missions/episodes from the Internet. "In honor" of the war in Iraq, there are several new missions – including "Capturing Qusay and Uday" and "Anaconda Operation" – all based on real battles. Recently, Kuma has put out a new chapter, "The attack on Iran," whose goal is to terminate Iran's nuclear project. In contrast to the rest of these games, this is a game that predicts the next stage of the war on terror. In response, it has been made known that Iranian programmers are planning to create a game in which the player's goal is to save an Iranian nuclear scientist captured by the Americans. Come to experience the war in Iran before it even breaks out. This project is in collaboration with the History Channel.
The game Intifada One of the few reality games produced in Israel. This game, which was created in 1989, was programmed by Mike Medved during the first Intifada. It attempted to simulate the relationship between the behavior of a single Israeli soldier faced with Palestinian demonstrators, and between government policies. The goal of this game is to scatter the demonstrators while killing and injuring the fewest Palestinians possible – by using various means of scattering demonstrators such as wooden clubs, rubber bullets, tear gas etc. The political picture evolves in the course of the game. The Minister of Defense is replaced, and the government policy towards the demonstrations changes – as does the soldier's ability to react. The Israeli soldier in this game is a reflection of a given Israeli world view: He is portrayed as a single soldier facing a charging crowd, a human and moral individual attempting to avoid unnecessary carnage, while his enemies are portrayed as bloodthirsty terrorists. The Israelis, according to this world view, are always the few fighting the many, David facing Goliath.
The Stone Throwers
The Stone Throwers was developed by the Syrian Muhammad Hamaza as a manifestation of support for the Palestinian people. This game was created after the outbreak of the Al Aqsa intifada. Nevertheless, it underscores the Palestinian perception of the resistance to the Israeli occupation: according to this perception, the intifada remains a popular uprising based on stone throwing, rather than a form of armed resistance. This game is centered upon a single Palestinian, who must throw stones at the Israeli policemen are approaching him on both side in order protect the Al Aqsa mosque. Like the Israeli intifada game, this game too was designed to strengthen the Palestinian perception of resistance as predicated upon the heroic struggle of individuals faced with numerous policemen. The individual portrayed here is waging a pure battle with no live ammunition, and he will win independence and honor through self sacrifice.
Night of Bush Capturing
Night of Bush Capturing
This game The Night of Bush Capturing contains six stages, including "The Launching of Jihad", "American Hell" and "Bush Hunted Like a Rat." It is a development of an older game called "The Hunt for Saddam." The player, who is equipped with various weapons, is walking through an army base decorated with pictures of George Bush, Tony Blaire, Ayatolla Khomeini and Hassan Nasrallah. The goal is to advance gradually, killing American soldiers until George Bush is captured. Like the other games, this game is not innovative in terms of its rules. It is an imitation of Western shooting games, and produces an entirely one-dimensional world view. The innovative aspect of this game is the exchange of roles, and the complete reversal between "good" and "bad" guys
The game Carpet Invaders was developed by the polish artist Janek Simon. It is essentially a variation on the classical game Space Invaders, presented on a traditional Caucasian carpet. The decorative pattern on the carpet strongly resembles the original graphics of Space Invaders, and the connection between the leisure culture of the industrial age and traditional Caucasian carpet weaving becomes part of the game. The traditional carpet, which has been gradually transformed from a ritual object into a decorative object, now becomes dangerous, and the player must eliminate it by shooting at its moving elements.