Reality Bytes

Reality Bytes
Cease Fire: A Look at Virtual Jihadi

Kate McKiernan | 18 Aug 2009 13:01
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During the single night the exhibit was open, Bilal expressed his wish that the sort of censorship that happened in Iraq would not happen in "this beautiful country." It took a while, but Bilal got his wish: in an ending more frequent in storytelling than real life, Virtual Jihadi was allowed to re-open after six weeks, following an outpouring of community support.

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Irrespective of any possible connection between videogame and real life violence, Bilal is concerned that videogames teach us something more insidious: hatred. "[V]ideo games are one of the technologies being used to foster and teach hate. I am especially concerned by the ones created by the US military, which are intended to brainwash and influence young minds ... the U.S. Army's own free on-line game is equal to the Night of Bush Capturing in its propaganda motives."

Many people may feel there is a world of difference between America's Army and Night of the Bush Capturing but as a man who has lived on both sides of the border, Bilal sees them as moral equals. Bilal uses his art to prompt us to examine our assumptions and whether or not we eventually end up agreeing with him, the introspection makes our lives richer. Speaking after his RPI exhibit was shut down, he said, "It's an art show that is trying to solicit a conversation among people. And when you shut it down, you say you don't have any right to say your point of view."

Virtual Jihad is a game where it's easy to see the delineations between the medium (a first-person shooter), the content (shooting American soldiers and assassinating Bush) and the speech (racist generalizations are dangerous). The game uses the videogame medium as a chance to explore what would drive someone to become a suicide bomber (the content). By taking the player through the grief of the senseless death of a family member, Bilal asks the player to consider - not approve, but consider - where these bombers are coming from (the speech). It encourages players to consider that if The Night of Bush Capturing is a mindless recruiting tool for racist violence, Quest for Saddam may be as well.

Virtual Jihadi asks many important questions that gamers must inevitably face as the medium is adapted for use in telling a wider range of stories. We have come to terms with stories of sex and violence sharing the same shelf space with games of adventure and racing. Can we deal with games that feature the assassination of a sitting president, however unpopular? Can we deal with games that ask us to question the government, or even other games? Can we deal with games with which we disagree?

Kate McKiernan is a games analyst, photographer, and webmaster for Pixelsocks.com. In her spare time, she enjoys being a biology graduate student at San Diego State University.

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