Ramzi’s Rumble: 'Arabs in games are rarely shown as the good guys'

Ramzi’s Rumble: 'Arabs in games are rarely shown as the good guys'
A young boy battles against settlers in this politically charged exploration of the Palestinian conflict. But can games deal with such provocative themes?

 Ramzi’s Rumble – a provocative and deliberately simplified take on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict Photograph: Public Domain
Although it is not always obvious, most games, particularly shooters, are politically charged. While the first-person games I grew up playing were mainly concerned with emulating the second world war (Medal Of Honour, Call Of Duty), over the past 10 years or so, new theatres of conflict have emerged: the Middle East, Africa, South America, Asia. 
And in games such as Delta Force: Land Warrior, Full Spectrum Warrior, Counterstrike, as well as the modern versions of the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor franchises (which have switched to commonly Arab enemies), the heroes come with guns, grenades and American accents. The overwhelming narrative is that there are clear heroes and villains, and the heroes are strong, militant, and ready to kill.
London-based game developers Paolo Caravajal and Vinay Chaudhri are trying to challenge that. Their game, Ramzi’s Rumble, is a platformer, which aims to subvert the traditional narratives of victim and villain – with some of their own political agenda thrown in. 
Developed in June over snatched weekends and evenings, Ramzi’s Revenge sees a young boy Ramzi, who comes home to find his land invaded by settlers. It’s not subtle, but the game is focused on a clear and pointed agenda: to raise the issue of illegal occupation. 
“At the heart of the conflict is the story of someone big taking something from someone small,” says Chaudhri. “It’s about the systematic injustice being carried out against the occupied Palestinian people. We felt we needed a new approach to telling an old story. Gaming involves people in a much more immersive way. We wanted to experiment with a new medium, to see if that could disrupt and refocus the discussion.”
Fortunately, the platform format ensures the game is not as complex as the issue – with only four characters, (Ramzi, Settler, Soldier, and Builder) it has a relatively simple conceit. The aim is to help Ramzi save his land by throwing pebbles at construction workers, dodge their hammers, and squash soldiers. 
Co-developer Caravajal says that the simplicity of the design is deliberate. Despite seemingly making light of complexity, the game is aimed at adults, and they hope to give it an age restriction at a later date. The project is currently onKickstarter and is picking up support.

Games as provocation

But is it too provocative? Critics may argue that the uncompromising message is pro-Palestinian propaganda. “It’s not meant to be,” says Caravajal. “What the game is doing is addressing a very specific issue, about illegal settlements. It is not about religion or politics, it’s about illegal occupation. A bunch of folks stealing land and homes from other people. The supreme court in Israel rejects settlements, as do the international community, the EU, many Jews and non-Jews.”
Mainstream gamers being challenged to politically engage on global issues is arguably no bad thing – and it is becoming more common. Last year saw the release of the critically acclaimed Papers, Please, a simulation that puts players into the role of a border guard controlling immigration into a fictitious eastern European state. And released in November, This War of Mine from Polish studio 11Bit, is based around helping civilians to survive in a war-torn city. Like those titles, a game that focuses on illegal settlement is a chance to create discussion.
Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, supports their ambition: “Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are just one aspect of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, and are rightly condemned by the UN and by governments worldwide, including our own,” she says. “Using video games to get that message across is a novel way to continue to raise awareness, and, hopefully, to reach new audiences of people who will then join their voices with ours to end injustice.”
Certainly, the concept of the little man fighting back is a theme that most gamers will recognise – it’s just that here, the man in question represents a different culture than we’re used to.
So is this kind of social commentary going to become more common in gaming? Chaudhri certainly hopes so.
“In games, movies and comics, Arabs are rarely the good guys. So there are millions of intelligent young minds out there, playing shoot-‘em-up games for hours on end, where the heroes are American special ops machos and the villains are swarthy foreigners.
“When [players] see real-world stories about those guys, it’s hard to empathise with them on a human level, because they’ve been the bad guys until then. How are you supposed to feel when those same ‘bad guys’ are the victims of a bombing or an invasion?” 


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