On Playing Video Games in Iraq

Simon Parkin, writing in The New Yorker, chronicles how video games have become a welcome refuge in the war-torn Iraq. For many kids, it’s a way to spend significant time at home and staying safe in the process:

The rise of video games in Iraq is a relatively recent phenomenon. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, it was difficult to buy them, and only relatively well-off, professional-class families like Mohammed’s could afford to import titles from Europe. Until the advent of disc-based video games in the mid-nineties, it was too difficult to pirate game cartridges. “The industry is still in its infancy in Iraq,” said Omar M. Alanseri, the owner of the Iraqi Games Center, one of only a small number of dedicated video-game retailers in Baghdad, which opened sixteen months ago. “But each year, more people get involved. I’ve seen the audience vastly increase, especially among teen-agers.”

Nevertheless, finding stock for Alanseri’s store shelves can be a challenge. “It’s not easy for me to get new games,” he said. “Mostly we import from online sites like Amazon.” Relatively few video games have been created by Iraqis. “Many games created here are not good enough to be published,” said Abdulla. “There is one title called Labaik Ya Iraq, which means ‘Iraq, We Answer Your Call.’ It is a strategy game, but not as good as, say, Command & Conquer.” Consequently, piracy remains rampant, and many copied games can be purchased for around a dollar.

This is unsurprising:

Some of the most popular video games in Iraq, as in America, are military-themed shooters, in which the player assumes the role of a soldier and blasts through waves of virtual enemies. “Almost all of my friends play video games like World of Tanks [and] Battlefield 3,” said Abdulla. “In fact, we have some of the top-ranked players in the world here.” The interest in military games stems from the local environment as much as, in the case of many players, male vanity. “Growing up, my life was completely military-focused,” Abdulla said. “It is the way we are raised. For example, I was taught how to use an AK-47 when I was in elementary school. Younger players who are not so affected by Saddam’s agendas play other game types more easily than we do, like Minecraft and other non-military games.”

Many of these first-person shooters, often created with input from U.S. military advisers—a handful of Navy SEALs was punished for consulting on the 2012 video game Medal of Honor: Warfighter—are set against the backdrop of fictionalized real-world conflicts, often within Middle Eastern countries. Some have entire sections set within Iraq, like the Battlefield series.

Read the entire piece here.

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