Double click for blood and terror
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