Dou­ble click for blood and ter­ror

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Books -

Th­ese are not like any video games you are likely to find in HMV. Here, you will be chased by Is­raeli sol­diers, called upon to quell a Pales­tinian demo and aim shots at Ariel Sharon. At a con­tro­ver­sial ex­hi­bi­tion in Is­rael, vis­i­tors can see and ac­tu­ally play ide­o­log­i­cal video games. The col­lec­tion, at the Is­rael Cen­tre for Dig­i­tal Art in Holon, is en­ti­tled For­bid­den Games, and of­fers vis­i­tors a chance try their hand at politi­cised video games from var­i­ous sources in­clud­ing Syria, Hizbol­lah, Is­rael and Amer­ica. It is an un­set­tling ex­pe­ri­ence.

Vis­i­tors are in­vited into a themed room to ex­pe­ri­ence two rad­i­cally op­posed in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the In­tifada. A Syr­i­an­made game, The Stone Throw­ers, cen­tres on a lone Pales­tinian re­sis­tance fighter stand­ing on a blood-soaked floor in front of the Al Aqsa mosque. The player throws stones at waves of Is­raeli sol­diers. There is no way to win, as 21-year-old Sarit dis­cov­ers. “It’s frus­trat­ing to play. Even if you reach 3,000 points, you just get at­tacked harder. You’re al­ways go­ing to die.”

The Is­raeli game In­tifada again casts the gamer as a lone fig­ure, this time an IDF sol­dier try­ing to quell a demon­stra­tion. The aim is to dis­perse pro­tes­tors while caus­ing the min­i­mum of in­juries. Meth­ods avail­able in­clude wooden clubs, rub­ber bul­lets and tear gas. Live am­mu­ni­tion is for­bid­den, and play­ers are heav­ily pe­nalised if they use it. Sarit tries this one out, but does not do too well — a no­tice in­forms her that her re­sponse was ex­ces­sive. The gov­ern­ment has been voted out of of­fice and her weaponry de­pleted.

Mean­while, in an­other room, David Nabarro, a 22-year-old for­mer IDF of­fi­cer is ab­sorbed in Hizbol­lah’s game, Spe­cial Force.

“OK, I’ve got a knife and an AK47. Graph­ics are nice… Hey, I was killed by the Is­raelis!” He en­ters the train­ing zone, where he prac­tises his shoot­ing skills on por­traits of Is­raeli lead­ers, in front of a map of the re­gion with Is­rael con­spic­u­ously ab­sent. “I don’t know why, but it’s mak­ing me laugh,” he says, load­ing vir­tual bul­lets into a por­trait of Ariel Sharon, with ac­com­pa­ny­ing sound ef­fects. Then he se­lects a mis­sion in South Le­banon. On re­flec­tion, he adds: “It’s ac­tu­ally dis­turb­ing to see this amount of hate. I don’t think we should cre­ate such games. It pro­motes vi­o­lence.”

The video-games mar­ket is now big­ger than Hol­ly­wood. The genre of re­al­is­tic war games is es­pe­cially pop­u­lar, and is gen­er­ally based on eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able en­e­mies and buck­ets of vir­tual blood­shed. The “for­bid­den” games col­lected in Holon are all dis­trib­uted out­side of the of­fi­cial en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. They have a chill­ing pro­pa­ganda po­ten­tial.

A stair­case in one room leads down to a base­ment. “The Al Qaida game is in the bomb shel­ter,” says cu­ra­tor Galit Elat. The game, called The Night of Cap­tur­ing Bush, takes place in a US train­ing camp. It turns out to be a di­rect re­sponse to an Amer­i­can game called Quest for Sad­dam, with the same graph­ics, dif­fer­ent mu­sic and of course dif­fer­ent bad guys.

This tit-for-tat pro­gram­ming is part of a war of war games be­ing waged on com­puter screens around the world. When US com­pany Kuma cre­ated a hy­po­thet­i­cal mis­sion to ter­mi­nate the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gramme, the Ira­ni­ans an­nounced that they were work­ing on one in which the goal is to save an Ira­nian nu­clear sci­en­tist cap­tured by the US.

Co-cu­ra­tor Eyal Danon sum­marises the dig­i­tal di­chotomy: “Th­ese shoot­ing games present a black-and-white world of good against evil, with no mid­dle tones. They are part of the ‘war on ter­ror’ we are al­ways hear­ing about. Here we can see both sides us­ing the same strate­gies.”

Top: Is­raeli game In­tifada. Left: Al Qaeda-in­spired

The Night of Cap­tur­ing Bush. Right: The Stone Throw­ers, made in Syria

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