Stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in the media are not new. They have been a persistent part of discussing the Middle East, terrorism, and Islam. Jack Shaheen, a professor at Southern Illinois University, traced these images of Arabs and Muslims in Hollywood movies. He found that Arabs and Muslims are often conflated so that it appears that Arab equals Muslim. Also, Arabs and Muslims are either portrayed as exotic, as if they all live in 1001 Arabian nights, or as violent. Obviously, these images do not reflect the reality of over 1.57 billion Muslim. These stereotypes are not restricted to Hollywood films or news media broadcast but also occur in video games.
In “Representation and Self-Representation: Arabs and Muslims in Digital Games,” Vit Sisler argues that Arabs and Muslims are consistently represented either in fantastical settings that draw from an exotic idea of the Middle East as foreign or they are represented as the enemy.
In the case of the first type, games use quasi-historical elements like famous caliphs or military leaders (Saladin, for example) to give the player what he refers to as an “oriental impression,” where the Middle East has no history outside of 1001 Nights. An example of this type of representation is Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. In the second type, the Middle East is the battleground and Arabs and Muslims are only the enemy, portrayed in head covers and with darker complexion. Moreover, the “enemy” is presented as unlawful combatants without any legitimacy. Basically, the vast diversity of Muslims is ignored and they are presented as a monolith. An example of this type of game is Conflict: Desert Storm II: Back to Baghdad. Sisler maintains that both kinds of games could lead players to think that they are true representations.
While the image of the Middle East as exotic is problematic, what is more troubling for me is the second category of games, especially when their focus is often to kill as many enemy combatants as possible. One example that was disconcerting for me is Muslim Massacre: The Game of Modern Religious Genocide. This game came out in 2008 and could be downloaded for free. The point of the game is to kill as many Muslims as possible. Of course, the Muslims are represented as one-dimensional figures. In the post-9/11 world, these types of games take on an entirely different meaning, especially when real events like the Iraq War are used as the basis for the game. Moreover, the nature of these games does not encourage dialogue and dismantling stereotypes but rather emphasizes dealing violently with others that you may not understand.
If you are a gamer, have you noticed how Arab and Muslims are represented? Do you think that these kind of images are problematic? Do you think that negative images in video games can contribute to negative sentiments towards a group of people? Do you know of any examples of games that seek to break down stereotypes? Please share your comments below.