The (Mis)Representation of the Arab World in Video Games
The Arab world has always been misrepresented in literature, movies, media, and art. Video games are no exception to this rule as we’re often seen portraying terrorists, enemies, or hostile beings. We’re basically the bad guys, forever.
In this day and age, video games have established themselves as a form of mainstream media that shapes our comprehension and understanding of the world by constructing and conveying various representations. American and European video games have long established what an Arab or a Muslim person should be like.
This is called orientalism in academic terms. The term was coined by the influential author Edward Said in 1978; and it means the exaggeration of difference, the presumption of Western superiority, and the application of clichéd analytical models for perceiving the oriental world.
Over the past two decades, Muslims have been one of the major villains in video games. Popular games such as Call of Duty only helps reinforce the mainstream stereotype that Muslims, regardless of nationality, are terrorists that need to be killed. Most Arabs in video games can be seen carrying AK-47, riding camels, and shouting “Allah akbar!” (Allah is the greatest)
On the other hand, some video games were exceptions to this agenda. Like the first installment of the very popular Assassin’s Creed series; as the main protagonist was surprisingly an Arab (although he was still an assassin, but he not the bad one). Another example is Farida from Deus Ex: Human Revolution; a Muslim girl that was different from the clichéd stereotype. There’s also a game called Global Conflict: Palestine, which has a journalist for its protagonist that has just arrived in Palestine; its only task is to write unbiased articles about the unfolding events.
The constant criticism from enlightened gamers is promising. It is expected because Arabs have become a huge part of the gaming world, and that diversity needs to be respected. There are several video games coming in the future that are trying to properly represent the Arab World such as The Sun Also Rises (about civilians caught in the Afghan war), Saudi Girls Revolution (where the main characters are female motorcycle heroes who drive across post-apocalyptic Saudi Arabia).