Muslim Should Not Equal Villain

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A very interesting read. It made me wanna buy Assassin's Creed.

Usagi Vindaloo:

Who said anything about politics? Where are the politics in having tons and tons and tons of awesome characters from all walks of life? Surely having a wide range of character types, backgrounds and stories only strengthens a narrative and pulls us in deeper to the emotional core of the work? I don't know about you, but I don't want all the heroes (or villains) to be the same... I want each and every one to be unique.

Just because it's something you approve of doesn't mean that it's not politics. This is geopolitical race and religious issues being shoved in gaming's face. That's politics.

Usagi Vindaloo:

But it DOES contribute to the idea that we are all human beings, united together, with far far more that unites us than divides us. That is why it benefits each and every one of us. You can't deny that being brought together and forging closer bonds between people and cultures is nothing but a good thing and something we (should) all work towards.

"Being brought together" is quite often the source of violent conflict, especially when it is done by one group of people while dictating terms. People trying to "unite" each other while being utterly myopic and dismissive of values they don't personally approve of wind up being incredibly divisive.

Usagi Vindaloo:

White gamers already have people like them. We have plenty of role models and people who look like us.

But you're not talking about them playing those games. Is playing a game with a main character who looks like you more fun or not? Let's not have any double standards here.

Usagi Vindaloo:

Basically, it is an absolutely no lose situation to include more diversity in our heroes.

On the contrary, chasing that unicorn is almost always lose-lose. It's never enough for one group of people and it's annoying to the rest.

Put a muslim as the main character in your game? Ok, now any faults he has will be blown out of proportion to show how you're just enforcing stereotypes. Make him too bland for that? Ok, now he's not enough of a real muslim. He's just a token minority. And everyone else is bored of him.

Wise developers stay away from the whole mess and just make what they think will sell.

Usagi Vindaloo:

I have a problem with ANY person being portrayed as a mook. That's actually one of my biggest issues with video games and their narratives in general; that the enemies feel like cannon fodder and stuff to shoot rather than realized characters in their own right. In this, I will agree, Muslims are not the only group to suffer this, as all video games screw this up royally with all types of characters, ethnicities, aliens, etc. It's just that Islam has this extra level of unfortunate implications which make it particularly squicky. But frankly, I wish games would stop with the "mook" thing and focus more on ensuring that every character has a life of their own. Otherwise it just comes over as bad writing. >< It's part of the reason I cringe at trash but love bosses in World of Warcraft; the trash ends up seeming like faceless extras with no personality, whereas the bosses at least have some effort to differentiate them, give them quirks, etc.

This would require them to simply stop making most genres of games. Please try to be at least a little realistic here.

Wooow. Well this talkback has gone places.

IT'S A DAMN GAME. You could play the Nazis and the Confederates in old, old tactical games way back in the late eighties and early nineties. (Not, you understand, that I'm equating the two.) What the hell's the difference between then and now? That the character has a "face"? Utter nonsense.

A bugbear I have about the few war games I've actually played recently is that the American "heroes" (and they're ALWAYS American) are frequently less likeable than the cartoonish foreigners serving as the villains. Y'know, if you had a more balanced outlook, it might be good for the game AND the player. Of course this is probably not going to happen as long as the biggest markets for this kind of game are either American or Anglophile.

So I guess my point is that it all comes down to perceived demand - and the perception is based on what sells the best. Unfortunately big dumb Americocentric blasters seem to be the "what" in this case.

itf cho:
Personally, I find extremists in general to be the 'bad guys'. And the extremists who get the most press currently tend to be of the Muslim extraction. I find stories of the latest 'pronouncements' of some ultra-right wing Christian - I'm thinking of that eejit who not too long ago said that the disaster in Haiti was because they'd made a deal with the devil a hundred years ago to get rid of the French - just as worrisome as I find some of the coverage of Muslim extremism. But if you're developing a game that's not based on any historical fact or event, and you need a bad guy, you're probably gonna pick a group that a majority of your target audience distrusts.

"Hey... we need a bad guy for this new shooter we've creating. Any ideas?"

"Grandmas!"

"Boy Scouts!"

"People who read to the blind!"

"Criminals!"

"Lawyers!"

"France!!"

"Muslims!"

And currently, the easiest sell for the game devs is probably the Muslims. It's the world we live in right now. But the reality - or the reality we're shown through the lenses of the tv news cameras - we're seeing is acts of terrorism being done by Muslims. Not to mention the odd story here and there of how Sharia law rules on a case involving a woman. And as long as they are the current bad guys on the nightly news; they're gonna be the current bad guys in video games as well. North Korea was making a play for the big bad guy role, but as expected, they kind of sputtered and whimpered off the world stage - for now at least.

Well said.

It's fun to see people equating the use of Russians and Germans in games with the use of Arabs.

Because the two don't equate - Germans aren't used as en masse 'bad guys' in videogames; Nazis are. Similarly for Russians - the cartoon bad guys used in games are Soviet Union soldiers - often Spetznaz and KGB (i.e. explicitly Communist forces).

That doesn't excuse making these organisations into a caricature, 2-dimensional bad guy - it's still naff writing - but it's not the same thing as turning an entire culture (one which still exists!) into the 'bad guy'.

And the idea that coalition forces are currently fighting 'Muslims' in Afghanistan is childishly simplistic. We're fighting terrorists, or insurgents (or freedom fighters, depending on your perspective). Many of which are Muslim.

But they're not united under the banner of Islam - they're united under an entirely different banner (the Taliban are the ousted government of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda are an anti-west terrorist group. The fact that both have extremist religious views explains some of their motivations, but it doesn't describe their organisations).

That would be like saying the British Army were fighting 'Catholics' in Northern Ireland...

SODAssault may I totally steal this analogy and use it elsewhere? Not perfect but clearer than any that I've seen in awhile. For those who missed it...

SODAssault:

Shihoudani:

I think as one of the very first posts pointed out, in answer to 1) and 2), there is a line you can stand in behind the germans, japanese, russian, chinese, south american, and so forth. All of them have been demonized and stereotyped to death in one game or another.

Here's why that's not a good justification: we have a pretty basic understanding of modern-day Germans, Japanese, Russians. We've been exposed to small portions of their culture, and we have an overall pretty clear picture of what they're really like. The fact that we're given objective and positive exposure to these people allows us to distinguish the difference between the way they're depicted, and the way they would be if we had to interact with them in real life, and also allows us to enjoy the mannerisms that are exaggerated in the name of irony.

With Muslims, however, the exposure we do get is predominantly negative, and the following cycle demonstrates why it's so damaging.

1. The media produces sensationalist stories for the purpose of scaring people into paying attention and giving them better ratings, and get away with it because the culture they're exploiting is largely alien to the western world.
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2. These cherry-picked, exaggerated tales that pass for "facts" are embraced and perpetuated by people who want to use that fear for their own gain, such as politicians that promise protection from such scary people, and religious figureheads that don't want competition from another major religion.
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3. A lot of people in the entertainment industry take note of how the majority of their target demographic is buying into the anti-Muslim craze, and realize they've found a group of existing people that can be portrayed as undeniably evil and okay to kill en-masse, while they can still claim that their product is realistic.
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4. People buy the product, and have their negative views reinforced.
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5. With no positive exposure to balance out the negative representations, stereotypes about Muslims become regarded as semi-factual.

I'm gonna wax analogous, here, so try to bear with me, because sometimes I get a little lost in them. Okay, imagine that the actual xenomorphs from the Aliens series are actually a largely pacifistic race, and the murderous ones you saw in the movies and games were from a splinter faction of ultra-hostile xenophobes? You'd have never guessed that in a million years, because every time you see them in games, movies, and everywhere else they show up, they're either killing people, or getting ready to kill people. Or they're abducting someone to impregnate them with a flesh-eating fetus via face-rape. When a new Alien game comes out, there's not a single person that needs to be told "if it has a black, shiny, chitinous shell, shoot the fuck out of it", because they already know through pop-culture that they're bad news.

Now, imagine you met one in real life.

image
"Hey there, stranger! Sorry to be a bother, but my wife and I just moved into the apartment down the hall, and we were hoping to celebrate FINALLY getting everything unpacked. Know of any good restaurants I could treat her to? And while I've got you, how's the nightlife?"

What is your first thought? Is it:

Or

...I know it's B, don't lie to me.

Conversely, if they made a game about E.T. being a murderous psychopath, you'd laugh it off as a crude parody, because you know that all E.T. wants to do is phone home and eat Reese's Pieces, thanks to all the positive exposure he's gotten. If you met him in real life...

image
"Some asshole cut me off in traffic today. I swear, I was angry enough to kill someone. Ugh."

Quiz time! First thought:

Or

It's an imperfect analogy, but I hope I made my point.

Saladin is often vilified? He was held up as an exemplar of chivalry in medieval Europe.

maryrobinette:
SODAssault may I totally steal this analogy and use it elsewhere? Not perfect but clearer than any that I've seen in awhile.

Go nuts.

It's worth noting that in Aladdin, whose villain Jafar is used in this article, the heroes are all Middle Eastern too.

A thought provoking read. I definitely enjoyed this article.

I can't describe how excellent assassins creed is as an example for portraying Muslims. I know a lot of people from (many) different places in the middle east, and I'm fairly certain they'd be satisfied, too.

It's insulting how bad we Americans are with races and religions other than pasty white christians who speak english (without a stupidly done accent). We're pathetic, really. This, of course, coming from a kid who grew up in one of the most diverse mixing bowls this side of california, of course.

As a muslim myself, I find this to be a great article.

Also, epic name.

I don';t know ... pretty thin ice the argument you make. I think the attitudes concerning Arabs and Americans is fairly tit for tat. They just happen to get a bad rep on your chosen media format (games and movies). But Russians have a far harder time than Arabs in both media formats too. Last time I checked most Russians are white. So I don't think it's an ethnic thing.

I think it's moreso a case of religion ... which kinda makes sense.

Ah, controversy. I find this article well written and long overdue, and I can appreciate fully the effort Saladin put into this. Especially breaking the stereotype that muslims are mindless barbarians that barely know what Pong is. There are, in fact, many games being produced in the Middle East. Why we in the west haven't really heard of them is because it isn't being figured there would be much of a market. No wonder. But I would be quite interested to try some of what is being produced. I remember word of a fantasy MMO even being developed, but right now can't remember the name. I do remember visiting the website and found the graphics astounding. I wish that venture well. Any focus on imagination is better than any focus on bombmaking. That goes to both christians and muslims.
I don't mind at times when western actors are used for arabic roles(it is acting after all), but I think in the case of Assassin's Creed having an arabic actor would have put a little more emphasis in your role as Altair. But that's just my thought.

HentMas:
is it wrong that i felt a giggle comming up when you said "less time blowing up guys that look like my dad"?

anywhay, i kind of see your point, but being from México i cant really relate to all this problems, i mean sure, being called a beaner or seen how in the border things are getting out of hand is extremely irritating, but there are no games or media really exploiting that kind of thing, so its... ok?? in a sense

Give it some time. With the US pulling out of Iraq and Afghan operations getting their usual 5 minutes of attention from the media, it won't be long before Hollywood and game studios start seeing some appeal in Border Patrol games. I expect it, but I won't applaud it. Ask yourself again when that occurs if it still okay.

Massive props to you for defining the true meaning of "Jihad", that is man's personal struggle against the temptations of evil, both from within and from the surrounding world.

JourneyThroughHell:
It's not that surprising that the Muslim culture is depicted wrongly in videogames - most of them cater to Americans or Europeans, to whom the Muslim culture is something far away and out of reach.

I don't know about the rest of Europe, but here in Romania we have a large Turkish population, and Muslim culture has perfectly integrated with our own.

Pugiron:

daftnoize:

Puddle Jumper:
Following people would like to have a word with you on stopping to complain and get over it: Russians, Germans.

Not funny, certainly not smart!

To deny that Germans and Russians are still villains after decades is just moronic

Wow. Just wow. It makes me sad that i have to share this Planet with you. Simply unbelievable.

"Yeah, I think this is absolutely true. And I think RPGs have even more potential for nuance. What I'd really love to see, in fact, is a Dragon Age-style 'open morality' type game with an Arabian Nights theme...

[ETA: this is in response to StageTree @ #43]"
this is racist to be honest. It's the same sort of racism that people bring to sports. I want the chinese guy to win because I'm chinese. It's not a bad type of racism, if you differentiate, but the fact you noticed there is a difference means there's racism going both ways.

Saladin Ahmed:

BloodSquirrel:

Usagi Vindaloo:

No, I read that as saying that he has a problem with them being portrayed as ONLY villains and nothing else. Not only that, but that the portrayal reduces them to moving targets to be shot, as opposed to fully realized, living and breathing characters.

Ok, see, this "as opposed to fully realized, living and breathing characters" nonsense is the problem. They are opponents on a battlefield. At what point are they going to be characterized? Are they going to start chatting you up after they spawn and before they start shooting you? How many other shooters show you the life story of mook #341 before he starts shooting at you? I asked the author these questions, and he couldn't answer.

If you want the game to go that far out of its way to make up for the fact that the villains are muslims, then you clearly do have a problem with them being portrayed as villains. "I don't have a problem with muslims as villains" are easy words to type, but when you call games that do so "offensive" you clearly don't mean them.

Sigh...as I and a number of commentators have mentioned there's no problem with having Muslim villains. The problem is when the *only* Muslims that *ever* appear in games are villains. I've said this about five different ways now, as have numerous other posters.

And no, no one expects FPS games to suddenly feature enemies who sing 'kumbaya' and hug the protagonist after they spawn. It's mostly a two-dimensional genre, a fact which you can take or leave. But the best-written FPS games *do* nuance their conflicts in cutscenes, manuals, etc. Halo initially featured an unrelentingly evil alien Covenant but, over the course of the games, players are introduced to the idea that the Covenant themselves are, to a degree, dupes who are being manipulated -- and we see the Elites break from the Covenant eventually. And that's not even counting FPS/RPG hybrids. Deus Ex was functionally an FPS in most of its gameplay, and it was one of the most complex, politically nuanced, morally ambiguous games ever made.

That's not really an appropriate argument. Are you seriously suggesting that every villanious group has to be multicultural? Why not multi-lingual as well? Multi-sexual, multigendered, multi-abilitied, multi-political?

Crime networks are typically composed of people from the same religion, the same neighbourhoods or the same religion. Arabic people will therefore, always be grouped together, it would be unrealistic and racist to conclude otherwise.

"These games aren't remotely realistic" *Woosh*. That's the sound of a point going right over your head.

cainx10a:

stinkychops:

cainx10a:

stinkychops:
This article will convince no-one. I'd like people to change a lot of attitudes, in fact everyone would like their views to be held by the majority (that is unless they're trying to be individuals) what makes you assume your attitude is right?

So he should just be silent about it and accept that arabs/muslims are good target practice in video games? That arabs/muslims and generally "brown-people" culture should be vilify for the enjoyment of some developed countries entertainment? Video Games are not exactly an obscure medium of entertainment anymore.

A few years down the line, and we will probably see a lot of games covering the conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq (guess who the bad guys are going to be). That's something that will happen no matter how many people are offended by it. If 1 million of Muslims died in the two conflicts combined, video gamers should be able to break that high score easily with video games.

Also, he has a cool name.

You're presenting a binary argument where there isn't one. This is doing no-one any favours.

The best way, in my mind, for Muslims to overcome the stigmas society has attached is by better attaching themselves to society. I'm not saying it's their fault, it's specific people within Islam, but it's their job to win people over. No-one gets given anything. which boils down to integration of Muslims in western societies. Are they not integrated at all? I mean, are they just here like some other forum-dweller said only here to benefit from welfare and other flaws in the system? Ok, I will be honest, here in Canada, I don't exactly have any contact with my muslim friends on the same level I had back in my home country, but these people seems well integrated. They are getting educated, and working. They are functioning members of society. (note I'm only referring to Muslims here in Canada and the US, from what I get, Europeans tend to have it worst in a way)

So he can write some smug article about how racist and bigoted westerners are, or he can realise that everyone's as racist as each other and that these arguments simply gain momentum here because a majority of us are better educated and thus 'they' need to change their method. True, everyone is a little bit racist. We tend to emphasize on the "they/them" first, then look on our side of the fence. But remember Avatar? Popular movie, still have typical 'white' guy to save the aliens because apparently they can't save themselves. It's understandable considering WHO are the PRIMARY target audience? What needs to be change is that this 'primary' target audience need to include everyone. Something a simple character editor can do. Remember those arguments about the 'lack' of female protagonists? That could solve that problem all-together. The characters don't need to be painted completely as the minority/race they are representing. Does it matter if Gordon Freeman was an arab, an indian, or a latino? It doesn't.

How many red-necks/racists/Muslim bashers do you think will be convinced by this? How many level headed, educated people do you think see things this black and white? excellent point, but there are still people in-between those two groups

You can cherry pick an argument if you want, but all I see here is a writer putting his own publicity ahead of what will do the people he's 'supporting' the better deal, in my opinion.
Just because he's Muslim doesn't give him a more valid opinion than other other writer, nor will it shield him from criticism. there was a saying after 9/11 that Muslims opinions don't matter. Your criticism however is good criticism, but it doesn't change the fact that most of the things he said in this article, or anyone written by a gamer who also happens to be a minority will echo that (being a minority myself: although I must admit, games seem to ignore Indians (me ancestors, not originally from India) as the bad guys, I am deeply hurt. I always wanted to murder my gramps before he met my grandma.). Of course, I don't disagree that it is pretty pointless to know the back-story of the pixels you are shooting most of the time when they see no qualm in shooting you.

Your search for a righteous argument seems to have led you to condemning things that haven't even happened yet. Not looking for an argument over this point, but MoH (which after watching some videos felt just like a certain Modern Warfare game everyone plays) is getting released, and 6 Days was almost here (and I am particular glad it's not).

We've got enough on our plates to solve now before we worry about censoring future media. Is it about censorship? What exactly is being censored? Inclusion of Muslims-like characters as the bad guys? Games can be more than generic shooters or gratuitous US military fantasies. Also, what exactly do gamers have on their plates that need to be addressed first? BioWare has made the step forward with its acceptance of homosexuals in its games. What else? Dealing with how violent games are censored? That's probably the biggest and only issue the industry has (unless you want to count games addiction as another issue), but thanks to the 'freedomz' they hate us for, that will in the future, protect video games from unnecessary censorship as well considering the money the VG industry produces, I find it hard at this stage that the video industry is in a big danger of anything.

Plus... I prefer my Salad Out. (I couldn't resist :P ) No, you!

I'd like to apologise to you for my tone in that post.

I certainly don't believe they contribute nothing to society (I believe they do contribute), all I'm saying is that I want to be able to say G'Day to a muslim neighbour, or to a muslim neighbours daughter without feeling that I'm treading on some unspoken laws-or I'm getting someone bashed. Of course these are unlikely to happen, it's just that I can;t feel comfortable when Muslims often socialise within their own communities. This alienation makes it easy for me, and no doubt others, to view things in an 'us vs them' sense.
If their culture (the more fundamentalist compared to the 'I'm muslim but it's no big deal') must stick with them, and it has to be so polar to my own, then its going to be hard for them to be treated the same as other minority groups.

I thought one of the researchers was Arabic. Regardless this argument blurs the line a bit. The main character was a cripple, I think that the film wasn't worried too much about race. I'd be interested to see how many Arabic films go to troubles to get 'white' actors. ;)

That's not to excuse their exclusion in films, but the directors/writers hold loyalties to the producers. Who hold loyalties to money, which they get from the general public. If the general public doesn't think much of Muslims, then Articles such as these will not help that change.

I don't feel that this Article will win anyone over into the accepting camp, but if it has that's great.

I'm suggesting that society has enough to deal with before they worry about the games medium being racist. It's not exactly the most respected medium when it comes to changing public opinion. I was suggesting that we shouldn't worry about games that don't exist yet that might be racist. MoH doesn't seem racist to me. They're not fighting one-eyed, lesbian africans over there.

Why do I get myself into this? Here we go.

cainx10a:

And you think the Muslims from Saudi Arabia and the Muslims from Iran are the same? They share the same religion (or variation of it, wahhabhism (or w/e they call it) in SA, probably different types in Iran) , but their ideologies are different. Do I have any proof of that? Just wiki the ethnic/religious parties in Iran/Saudi Arabia for that. Germany and the countries it attacked, were Christians during WW2 and that doesn't make all Christians responsible for the holocaust considering Germany was Christian at the time, and Christianity always had a really bad relationship with Jews, while the Jewish-Muslim relationship was, at least during the dark ages not as bad as it is today, and having to be apologetic about it at every turn. Iraq/Iran had bad blood between them despite being Muslim countries.

You made my point. There are many different Muslim countries that, despite being different ethnicites and of many different backgrounds, all have a common thread of demeaning women, gays, and having a very backwards attitude towards civil rights. Mind you this clearly isn't all the inhabitants of the countries (as displayed by the riots in Iran they tried so desperately to cover up). The populaces of most Muslim countries do not enjoy the freedoms we in the west do. This does not make all Muslims bad; of course not. It does, however, make a lot of backwards thinking very prevalent throughout a lot of Muslim culture. I don't see how a rational person can make the argument its okay for anyone to demean the rights of women, gays, people of other religions, and freedom of expression (all rights we take for granted).

cainx10a:

I argued with a bigot over hours about this, there are a billion of Muslims, and the majority of them are not even in the middle-east. Muslims over the world DO NOT have to apologize over what the taliban are doing, over what al-quaida is doing or what iraqi insurgents were doing or what the despotic regime in underdeveloped countries are doing.

I have to take issue with this as well. Why is it that in Denmark a few years ago a filmmaker was murdered for making a scathing documentary on Islam. In France in I believe early 2009 (I'm not going to do THAT much research for this argument about geopolitical issues on a videogame forum but check my facts) by Muslim immigrants in France. A lot (NOT ALL) Muslims worldwide have created a culture of fear against anyone who would criticize their culture. How about all the fuss over Southpark recently. They never got death threats when they made cartoons about Catholic Priests raping children. They never got death threats when they made a cartoon about Jews worshiping a magic driedel that represented a prophet.

A large portion (NOT ALL) of the Muslim community have really set a terrible precedent for the acceptance of ideas that are not their own. That is fact, not opinion.

cainx10a:

Bullshit.

1. I'm pretty sure there are CHRISTIAN palestinians. Not all arabs are muslims.

Not according to the census data I found available.

2. When an arab muslim doctor can have his entire family blown to pieces by the same people he work his ass to save, then your entire point is moot. Arabs are known to live as second-class citizens in israel.

3. HAMAS are known to help palestinians, just like Hizballah helped lebanese considering they were a pivotal force to defend Lebanon. Israel/US refusing to acknowledge them (HAMAS) as a legitimate government when they were elected was a childish move.

This I HIGHLY disagree with. Hamas are recognized by every major governing body in the west as a terrorist organization. That is because they are and since their inception they have conducted themselves as such. The whole situation has devolved since the outting of the moderate Fattah party; who actually wanted to live in peace with Israel rather than destroy it. How are you smarter than every major western governing body in the world (don't answer that ;).

4. Lebanon only recently allowed palestinians to work legally in their countries, I can't say anything about Egypt border though. Pretty much might be similar to why a certain country wants to protect its border from illegal immigrants.

5. The palestinians obviously are not peace loving, they totally don't mind being treated as cattle, killed and farmed for organs, having their kids sent to random dungeons never to be seen again, having to watch as their houses and land are destroyed by their peace-seeking neighbor, or having to live through another Israeli raid.

Also, I miss the 1-shot-2-kills pictures on Israeli-made shirts.

You mean to tell me there are asshole biggots in Israel?!?! Like there are in every single country in every single society that has ever existed? Here is the litmus test I would use. Is it okay to be Muslim in Israel? Yes. I have been there and met some. They are very friendly people. Is it okay to be Jewish in Gaza? No. Is it okay to be gay in Gaza? No. Does Hamas murder any civilians who protest its rule? Yes. Don't take my word for it though; do some research.

Bringing the Israeli-Palestinian argument in this thread is just a dick move. It has nothing to do with a Islam versus Judaism conflict, never was, never will be, as much as some people want it to be.

So FFS, stay on topic.

I disagree. I'm sorry you see it as a dick move but it perfectly illustrates my point about Muslim culture as a whole. Israel is a country that has a lot of freedom, has a great higher education system, has turned a shithole desert into a lush landscape and a thriving economy in very little time, where people of all faiths journey to travel and worship, and a place where you can be a woman and go to the movies by yourself. The culture does have it's flaws, but it is way better than the culture in the Gaza strip. They are NOT equal.

If I were Muslim I wouldn't be mad at the west for negatively portraying my culture and heritage. I would be PISSED OFF at a large portion of my faith all over the world who act like backwards savages who haven't evolved philosophically in thousands of years. Once again, my view isn't that all Muslims are like this. My view is that the ones who are ruin it for the ones who aren't. I hope I made that much clear.

BloodSquirrel:

Usagi Vindaloo:

Who said anything about politics? Where are the politics in having tons and tons and tons of awesome characters from all walks of life? Surely having a wide range of character types, backgrounds and stories only strengthens a narrative and pulls us in deeper to the emotional core of the work? I don't know about you, but I don't want all the heroes (or villains) to be the same... I want each and every one to be unique.

1) Just because it's something you approve of doesn't mean that it's not politics. This is geopolitical race and religious issues being shoved in gaming's face. That's politics.

Usagi Vindaloo:

But it DOES contribute to the idea that we are all human beings, united together, with far far more that unites us than divides us. That is why it benefits each and every one of us. You can't deny that being brought together and forging closer bonds between people and cultures is nothing but a good thing and something we (should) all work towards.

2) "Being brought together" is quite often the source of violent conflict, especially when it is done by one group of people while dictating terms. People trying to "unite" each other while being utterly myopic and dismissive of values they don't personally approve of wind up being incredibly divisive.

Usagi Vindaloo:

White gamers already have people like them. We have plenty of role models and people who look like us.

3) But you're not talking about them playing those games. Is playing a game with a main character who looks like you more fun or not? Let's not have any double standards here.

Usagi Vindaloo:

Basically, it is an absolutely no lose situation to include more diversity in our heroes.

4) On the contrary, chasing that unicorn is almost always lose-lose. It's never enough for one group of people and it's annoying to the rest.

Put a muslim as the main character in your game? Ok, now any faults he has will be blown out of proportion to show how you're just enforcing stereotypes. Make him too bland for that? Ok, now he's not enough of a real muslim. He's just a token minority. And everyone else is bored of him.

Wise developers stay away from the whole mess and just make what they think will sell.

Usagi Vindaloo:

I have a problem with ANY person being portrayed as a mook. That's actually one of my biggest issues with video games and their narratives in general; that the enemies feel like cannon fodder and stuff to shoot rather than realized characters in their own right. In this, I will agree, Muslims are not the only group to suffer this, as all video games screw this up royally with all types of characters, ethnicities, aliens, etc. It's just that Islam has this extra level of unfortunate implications which make it particularly squicky. But frankly, I wish games would stop with the "mook" thing and focus more on ensuring that every character has a life of their own. Otherwise it just comes over as bad writing. >< It's part of the reason I cringe at trash but love bosses in World of Warcraft; the trash ends up seeming like faceless extras with no personality, whereas the bosses at least have some effort to differentiate them, give them quirks, etc.

5) This would require them to simply stop making most genres of games. Please try to be at least a little realistic here.

1) Huh. So friendship, brotherhood/sisterhood and loving your fellow man is politics now? I always figured that was just basic human decency, no politics at all.

2) I don't think any values are being dismissed or any values are being dictated. The only thing that is being "dictated", if anything, is the idea that, "Hey, humans are a diverse bunch no matter what their ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, etc. That means we don't have to limit ourselves narratively by having one group of humans always act one way. Cool!"

3) I actually don't care whether the character looks like me or not. Sure, it would be cool to have a few more overweight female characters that are dynamic, awesome heroines, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy a game without a female character. To *me*, it's not that important. However, as this article makes clear, it is important to other people. As someone who tries to be a good person, it's up to me to try to ensure that THEY are able to enjoy the game just as much as I can.

4) Or they could, you know, write the Muslim as a fully realized human being, as opposed to worrying about making him too bland or giving him stereotypical flaws. Just write the character with the same respect you would write any other character. Same with any minority, with women, etc.

For example, let's say you have a squadron with a Muslim, a gay man, and a black guy. The problem is that as it is, the game will be written so that the Muslim will keep talking about Allah, the gay man will be camp, and the black guy will talk jive: all pretty tired stereotypes. Either that, or as you said, they become just bland perfect people, which is silly, because minorities don't get offended over flaws or quirks... they get offended over *stereotypes*. Instead, why not make the Muslim an enthusiast model collector? Have the gay character always complaining that his favorite show has gone in the crapper since he's been deployed? Maybe the big beefy black guy absolutely loves to cook and is constantly telling your character that he's going to cook him a mean lobster thermidor once you get back home? Boom. Humanity, living and breathing, very realistic, and a narrative improvement to the game for all players regardless of their race, religion, sexuality or gender.

5) Actually, it would be very easy (design wise, perhaps not technical wise) to fix this problem; simply differentiate mook AI and reactions to combat. Every human being reacts differently to having to kill other people, so reflecting that in the mooks would be AWESOME.

For example, for some people, it's their first time in a real fire fight, and they may go to pieces if something bad happens. Perhaps some mooks, after killing someone or seeing a compatriot die, freeze up and start screaming, "Oh god! Oh god!" or something similar in the appropriate language of the mooks.

Others revel in killing and crack in different ways. Perhaps a mook here or there that starts laughing hysterically while unleashing a full clip of ammo on you.

Depending on the type of game, you may also see mooks out of combat (e.g. wandering around base, on patrol, etc). This is a great time to humanize them with dialogue. It could be anything from the old, "Here's a picture of my wife and kids!" to "These woods make me jumpy" to "Hey, did you catch the last episode of (television show here)?" or whatever suits the world of the game (e.g. WoW could have, "Hey, did you catch the last performance of Level 70 ETC?") Speaking as a writer, this would be awesome for two reasons: it would make the world much more real and give the enemies you must face a great sense of depth and existence (ie they take up space and exist, rather than just being a walking target that shoots/hits back), and it would mean a lot more work for writers like me hoping to write dialog for video games. ^_^

EDIT: After further musing on my discussion with you, part of me thinks that the core of the problem does relate to bad writing, or at least mediocre writing, in video games. I wish more companies would hire dedicated writers and narrative designers rather than depending on game designers to do everything. As it is, with the game designers often having to write the narrative and dialog as well as, you know, design the game itself, a lot of stuff falls through the cracks, and it's easy to take shortcuts that end up coming across as lazy or offensive. "Meh, we need mooks to kill for this game. Hmm, Muslim terrorists seem like a good target. Done! Now onto the weapon design..." Part of the reason I love Bioware with all my heart and soul is that they hire great writers specifically to focus on this sort of thing... though even they mess it up sometimes (e.g. too many random mooks in Mass Effect, although they at least tried to give them stuff to say sometimes. "I will destroy you!")

I dream of a day when video games boast as complex, nuanced and emotional stories and character interactions as movies and books (though movies sometimes fall into the dreaded Mook Trap as well). As it is, we've had a few companies that are getting there; Bioware comes really close, and whatever Square Enix's storytelling faults (and they are many), their characters and stories are compelling enough to drive entire fandoms full of passionate writers, artists and fans. Assassin's Creed was also an excellent example of storytelling and fleshing out the characters to make them realistic. Of course, I may be biased as I could listen to Al-Mualim's voice actor read the phone book and it would have kept me riveted. ;-)

Anyway, point being that diversity - whether it's in terms of ethnic or sexual identity or in terms of narrative construction and character building - is a good thing. Variety is the spice of life, as is depth, realism, and a sense of a living breathing person or world.

Saladin Ahmed:

Yeah, a posh English accent in an American cartoon pretty much = loves to torture puppies (or, perhaps, have a manservant torture puppies) while calmly sipping tea.

If I was to torture puppies, that would be the way to do it.

Powerman88:

stinkychops:

That's not really an appropriate argument. Are you seriously suggesting that every villanious group has to be multicultural? Why not multi-lingual as well? Multi-sexual, multigendered, multi-abilitied, multi-political?

Crime networks are typically composed of people from the same religion, the same neighbourhoods or the same religion. Arabic people will therefore, always be grouped together, it would be unrealistic and racist to conclude otherwise.

"These games aren't remotely realistic" *Woosh*. That's the sound of a point going right over your head.

While you have a point about villanous groups not always being multi-cultural, the same cannot be said for heroic groups. There's plenty of opportunities for multi-ethnic or otherwise diverse groups of heroes and supporting characters. Last time I checked, the US Army had plenty of Muslims, black people, gay people, etc etc. Why not reflect that in the squadron makeup? I think it would be cool to play a devout Muslim stationed in Afghanistan, and have black and gay squadmates along with straight white guys too. As long as they're not reduced to stereotypes (oh look, the black guy speaks jive, the gay man is FAAABULOUS, and the Muslim keeps saying "inshallah"), it'd be just as cool as an all white squad, with the added bonus of acknowledging the agency and awesomeness of everyone vs. just white people. Plus it would be realistic.

BloodSquirrel:

On the contrary, chasing that unicorn is almost always lose-lose. It's never enough for one group of people and it's annoying to the rest.

Put a muslim as the main character in your game? Ok, now any faults he has will be blown out of proportion to show how you're just enforcing stereotypes. Make him too bland for that? Ok, now he's not enough of a real muslim. He's just a token minority. And everyone else is bored of him.

Wise developers stay away from the whole mess and just make what they think will sell.

A) I realize this may be a shock to you, but lots of people want to see a greater variety of settings/heroes in games. It's not just about wanting to see one's self -- variety is a good thing in games, period. And -- though again this may shock you -- not every person -- not even every white American person -- shares your sense that a variety of settings and heroes would be 'annoying.' The diversity of opinions on this thread, and the many private messages I've received in the short time since the story was published make it clear that LOTS of people -- White, Black, Muslim, Christian, etc -- want more variety in their gaming experiences. So, while you're free to assume that everyone is as infuriated by the very notion of variety as you are, you're simply incorrect in doing so.

B) 'Wise developers,' like any creative professionals, stay sane by balancing purely commercial concerns with what they find fun and exciting. *Of course* developers make what they think will sell. But focusing on that question EXCLUSIVELY, to the point where your creativity and openness are completely stifled, leads to burnout and hating your job. Creative professionalism is a balancing act, and wise developers recognize that innovation (ie, introducing NEW things to gamers), rather than just following patterns of what's sold in the past, can be EXTREMELY rewarding, given the right circumstances & timing. Also, a) Designers and consumers are not all straight WASP males, and b) 'what sells' is not so narrow a slice of stuff as you imply. Assassin's Creed seems to have done alright for itself... So are BioWare titles which are opening up a bit re: ability to play nonwhite and gay characters. The future of gaming looks to be a full of a varied spectrum of viewpoints, approaches, settings, etc. Sorry if that scares you...

Saladin Ahmed:

BloodSquirrel:

On the contrary, chasing that unicorn is almost always lose-lose. It's never enough for one group of people and it's annoying to the rest.

Put a muslim as the main character in your game? Ok, now any faults he has will be blown out of proportion to show how you're just enforcing stereotypes. Make him too bland for that? Ok, now he's not enough of a real muslim. He's just a token minority. And everyone else is bored of him.

Wise developers stay away from the whole mess and just make what they think will sell.

A) I realize this may be a shock to you, but lots of people want to see a greater variety of settings/heroes in games. It's not just about wanting to see one's self -- variety is a good thing in games, period. And -- though again this may shock you -- not every person -- not even every white American person -- shares your sense that a variety of settings and heroes would be 'annoying.' The diversity of opinions on this thread, and the many private messages I've received in the short time since the story was published make it clear that LOTS of people -- White, Black, Muslim, Christian, etc -- want more variety in their gaming experiences. So, while you're free to assume that everyone is as infuriated by the very notion of variety as you are, you're simply incorrect in doing so.

B) 'Wise developers,' like any creative professionals, stay sane by balancing purely commercial concerns with what they find fun and exciting. *Of course* developers make what they think will sell. But focusing on that question EXCLUSIVELY, to the point where your creativity and openness are completely stifled, leads to burnout and hating your job. Creative professionalism is a balancing act, and wise developers recognize that innovation (ie, introducing NEW things to gamers), rather than just following patterns of what's sold in the past, can be EXTREMELY rewarding, given the right circumstances & timing. Also, a) Designers and consumers are not all straight WASP males, and b) 'what sells' is not so narrow a slice of stuff as you imply. Assassin's Creed seems to have done alright for itself... So are BioWare titles which are opening up a bit re: ability to play nonwhite and gay characters. The future of gaming looks to be a full of a varied spectrum of viewpoints, approaches, settings, etc. Sorry if that scares you...

Thank you for responding to this better than I could. It always confuses me to see people saying that diversity will somehow drive people away from games as opposed to engaging with people even better. I'm the whitest girl you'll ever meet, but show me a game where I play a gay Muslim man and I'll play it with great gusto (assuming, of course, that the game is good/a genre I want to play. Personal taste re: games does come into play too ;-)) if only to play something different. And if someone handed me a game with an overweight female character who WASN'T the butt of jokes or a background character but was instead confident, kickass and a positive rolemodel... that would be awesome., and I can't think of a single person who wouldn't enjoy such a character.

In the end, if a character is dynamic, engaging and interesting, he's going to be just as good a character if his name is Luis or Ahmed or Jason or Keisuke or Xeltoth, Planetary Hugger of Bunnies.

By the way, thank you for a very good article.

Brother Saladin, after reading this article I understand how you feel. A long time ago to current times Muslims have been portrayed in a negative manner and that's why I've never played most of these games. I did get surprised a bit in Army of Two and just let it roll off my shoulders cuz getting angry about it is justified based on the disrespect alone but I chose to stop playing it after deciding to complete it with my best friend and I continued to check game content to never play such games that disrespect all Middle Eastern peoples and Islam itself ever again. At this point most would seek if I could be hypocritical about disrespect against other cultures, peoples, and religions and we both must realize that Muslims aren't the only peoples and cultures plus religions that are disrespected. Everyone gets insulted but it's what we do about it that matters and that's mostly the reason why I like this article.

Velocirapture07:

cerebus23:
maybe if moderate muslims took a more front and center position against extremists, and took back your religion from facists that seek to define it and jihad as some war against non believers, instead of the internal struggle with faith.

back when christianity was putting philosophers and scientists and jews to death as evil and non believers. islam welcomed science and other faiths.

sure does not help the islamic cause when chrisitans on one hand are often ridiculed and made the but of jokes and downright belittlement they take more or less with a grain of salt. but south park dares use the name and "image" of muhammid and they get death threats pouring in so they have to bleep even the name.

islam can be a beautiful religion and people that follow it can be caring generous and accepting even of non believers, but far too often do the vocal minority of the extremists rise to the top and belittle the rest of you.

You sir hit the nail on the head. I would respect the religion a whole lot more if the moderates were more vocal and spoke out against the disgusting acts of these extremists. It's almost saddening to think that South park made a show about muhammed that blasted the other religions (Hindu Gods smoking dope, etc.) but when it comes to Muhammed there are death threats??? Something is wrong here.

I agree. The first step for the Muslim community to gain acceptance in Western society is to work against the extremist groups or, at the very least, speak out against them. I know that Islam has some maturing to do (see the Crusades for the Christian version) but in a modern world, threats to kill people because they misuse a religious image for humor is just stupid. Imagine what would happen if the Neo-con Christians decided to send death threats against every less-then-stellar use of Christian imagery.

Games need to work a bit more before saying "Hey, lets make the bad guys Muslims," but your article was a bit of an overreaction. The gaming companies are catering to the majority, which certainly is not the Muslim gaming community.

Edit: Also, Islamic law needs to update its views on women. Besides extremists, Islam's treatment of women just disgusts me. I realize that the vast majority of Muslims don't follow this, but having religion-condoned mistreatment of women's rights seems like a dangerous loophole. If those 2 things could be sorted out, I think there would be a dramatic upturn in the portrayal of Muslims.

This guy probably shouldn't watch Four Lions...but everyone else should...believe me it's hilarious.

On Topic: I think reactions like this are a bit over the top...i mean it's not like they depict all muslims as terrorist just like a WW2 shooter doesn't depict all germans as nazis....well you could argue the fact that only those 2 groups are shown but the way i see it (as a german) these are just the scenarios that fit best into a war fps...based on current events and those 65 years ago. And sure there are some idiots who jump to the conclusion that every person of german heritage or muslim believe is an evil SOB but they will do this anyway.

Saladin Ahmed:
Muslims in My Monitor

From Prince of Persia to the recent Medal of Honor news of playable Taliban, the depiction of Muslims in videogames hasn't been any more even-handed than American TV or movies. Saladin Ahmed is one Muslim gamer who'd like to see that change.

Read Full Article

Just because you're a muslim doesn't mean you know anything about or understand islam, kindly STFU.
When it comes to slavery, wars of conquest and conversion, oppression and exploitation of the populations of world you have no legs to stand on.
Don't give me that holier then thou attitude like you never did anything wrong.
In the end islam is still a religion made up of humans and it doesn't take a genius to pick up a history book and read about the horrors we visit upon eachother.
Islam has a bad rap but it deserves every letter of it.
So does any other human movement.

As far as games go, terrorists are the new nazis/godless communist oppressors. They aren't just Muslims they are terrorists that just happen to be Muslim. If so many of them want a better image of Islam then they need to stand up, say so, and start hunting the crazies like the rest of the planet.

That being said, it might be a small percentage of Muslims, like between 1 and 3%, but that's still about 10-30 million people dedicated to the wholesale destruction of "infidels" and unless your one of them, your in the "infidel"category, and therefore a target.

magicmonkeybars:

When it comes to slavery, wars of conquest and conversion, oppression and exploitation of the populations of world you have no legs to stand on.

Um...where exactly did I claim that Islamic history is free of these things? Muslims are human beings. Of course they've done all of the same villainous things -- and all the same heroic things - that human beings have done throughout history. What does this have to do with the article?

magicmonkeybars:

Don't give me that holier then thou attitude like you never did anything wrong.

You're right. You're...right. This one time, in fourth grade, I...I knocked down another kid and took Optimus Prime from him!

::breaks down weeping::

WHEN WILL THE OTHER MUSLIMS OF THE WORLD CONDEMN THIS BARBARITY!?

Puddle Jumper:
Following people would like to have a word with you on stopping to complain and get over it: Russians, Germans.

youve probably been quoted a load all ready, but i have to agree
its been decades since the cold war, which wasnt really a war. but if we need a bad guy to represent an equal power to america, its either russia or china
i think the germans are a bit better off these days
red alert 1 was the best, right?
the lead generals were german and greek, the main contributing forces were germany, france and britain (spies rule!) and america had very little to do with it for some reason
russians were still bad, but ot cartoonishly so.
all in all, it is still the best paced RTS i have ever played
go to hell ea, you shat out (and on) a couple mediocre/bad sequels to a brilliant game
im looking at petroglyph closely, as they consist of the lead designers of westwood studios, who made RA1

Saladin Ahmed:

magicmonkeybars:

Don't give me that holier then thou attitude like you never did anything wrong.

You're right. You're...right. This one time, in fourth grade, I...I knocked down another kid and took Optimus Prime from him!

::breaks down weeping::

WHEN WILL THE OTHER MUSLIMS OF THE WORLD CONDEMN THIS BARBARITY!?

it seems that is all some people need to judge others
im as white as you can get really, white friends, good background, i grew up in a good area of london, but i like to think im fair and open minded. im christian myself, practicing, but i like people of other religions. i think everyone needs to realise, in terms of religion and humanity, that we are ALL young, so none of us has the right to judge any other person, unless they have researched every possible event in the world, and manage to somehow quantify it

hold on... optimus prime?

BURN HIM AT THE STAKE!
(kidding!)

I could write a reply about how everyone is treated equally, but than I remember that everyone is treated equally in a negative way.

African Americans: Looked upon as thugs who live in the "ghettos". A really bad stereotype.

Mexican Americans: Seen as people who's existence in America is ruining the economy. I have SEEN people blame them for this 1st hand.

Muslims: They are terrorists and nothing else. Horrible stereotype.

Jews: These group of people actually have MANY organizations that hate their existence...publicly!

Americans in General: Seen by the rest of the World as the personification of the Deadly 7 Sins. Watching foreign news is fun!

EVERYONE is hated, to just choose one out of everyone is egotistic to me. Does this make me sound like a prick? It does, but I really am not the type of person to feel sorry for just one group when ALL of us are in the ****s together.

magicmonkeybars:

Saladin Ahmed:
Muslims in My Monitor

From Prince of Persia to the recent Medal of Honor news of playable Taliban, the depiction of Muslims in videogames hasn't been any more even-handed than American TV or movies. Saladin Ahmed is one Muslim gamer who'd like to see that change.

Read Full Article

Just because you're a muslim doesn't mean you know anything about or understand islam, kindly STFU.
When it comes to slavery, wars of conquest and conversion, oppression and exploitation of the populations of world you have no legs to stand on.
Don't give me that holier then thou attitude like you never did anything wrong.
In the end islam is still a religion made up of humans and it doesn't take a genius to pick up a history book and read about the horrors we visit upon eachother.
Islam has a bad rap but it deserves every letter of it.
So does any other human movement.

Then I don't know what's your problem with Islam being portrayed like most of the other human movements.

Games simply try to find some realistic opponents to fight and in current time the Muslim fanatics who openly say that they want free counties to burn...are great for this role. So basically I can't say anything bad about killing terrorists in video games.

It's not Islam being portrayed. It's extremist groups who follow Islam. No video game I have ever heard of, says all Muslims are bad and all are the same. In the new MoH, the bad guy is not islam. It's the Taliban.

Then again, we all know how Muslims get offended at the slightest remark even when it wasn't intended and must be exempt from any criticism.

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