Making Peace with a Violent Video Game

August 19th, 2009 by

Today’s news post is brought to you by Katiegreen and edited by Pixelsocks (first with a blunt instrument, and then with a scalpel).

I’d like to issue a warm welcome to anyone who has come to this site from my recent Escapist article, Cease Fire: A Look at Virtual Jihadi. I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughtful comments, and would like to talk about some of the points you’ve addressed.

Wafaa Bilal is a known pacifist. Though he uses his own image as the avatar in his game, Bilal disagrees with the choice of his character in the story. I hate pointing out that Jonathan Swift wasn’t really advocating delicious children, but Virtual Jihadi is a little nuanced. Virtual Jihadi was designed to be an art display rather than a commercial title, and this context matters when you interpret the game. If I see picture of a naked man with fresh, involuntary piercings through the wrists, I’m likely to think about sex, violence and how some people like to mix the two. If I see the same thing in an art museum, I’m a lot more likely to think, “Oh, look, another picture of Jesus.” Being in an art gallery gave Bilal an opportunity to make an artist’s statement, a chance to explain what he was trying to get across.

Virtual Jihadi’s content is not its message; the artist’s statement is. Bilal talks about the idea of comfort zones versus combat zones, and how that barrier has been eroded in Iraq (not only for Iraqis, but also for Americans). With no comfort zone you can’t unwind, because there is nowhere you can go to feel safe. Now imagine you’re already frazzled from living in a situation like that, and then someone you love is killed. If someone comes out of the shadows and offers you bloody vengeance, could you really refuse? I’d like to think I wouldn’t accept, but I’ve never been there.

Also consider the fact that all the Americans in Virtual Jihadi look identical. Juxtapose that against skinning all the Iraqis in Quest for Saddam to look like Hussein. In both cases, you equate every member of a race with an unpopular figurehead. Western culture lauds its own individuality while painting others with broad strokes. However, when Bilal turns the table on us, it hurts.

Virtual Jihadi holds an uncomfortable mirror up to Western games. It attacks our hypocrisy, not our safety. Once we are aware of the problem, we can start to do something about it. And in in this case, knowing is more than half the battle.

If you who found your way here via the Escapist article, we invite you to take a look around. We post game reviews and features late Monday evenings (we’re west coast), and news articles Wednesday and Friday evenings.


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  • 1 Xandre Aug 24, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Bilial struck a real chord here. This will be raged on at some point, but the USA is a highly hypocritical and hypercritical nation; it claims to be the land where speech is free, but by the looks of things, it seems that you can’t speak freely if it will offend somebody.

    There seems to be a view over there that it’s only terrorism if the victim is white & middle-class. For example, I was once watching a documentary on gang violence on the National Geographic channel. In that documentary, several teens were killed in the same school in seperate shootings. Now, the next sentence may come as a shock. It was a black school in a run-down part of the city. Many of you may have thought it was a white school.

    This is the point; America is full of double-standards;

    If a black school is shot up, few people care. If a white school is shot up, suddenly it’s a tragedy, and people start wondering what led to this? This is but one of the many double-standards. Bilal’s simple reskin is another. If the model is an afghan terrorist, it’s fine. But if it’s an American soldier, it isn’t politically correct any more. This is wrong. Society is wrong. If a school gets shot up, or if a tragedy happens, then each tragedy should be looked into, not just the ones that are of convienience to the investigators.