Lebanese politicians at mercy of video game players

MENASSAT features this article from the London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat about a Lebanese video game ā€“ Douma - that is putting power in the hands of the people, even if that power comes from the push of a button.
douma game
Douma game designers say the site has gotten as much 200,000 visitors. R.R.

BEIRUT, October 15, 2008 (AL-SHARQ AL-AWSAT) – If you were used to being led like sheep by your politicians, then what would you do to get back at them? Three video gamers from Lebanon decided they would put that decision in the hands of the Lebanese, but not through street protest or overt political demonstrations – through a video game called Douma.

For the Lebanese game-playing public, you can fight face-to-face with a rival leader or even lob a Katusha rocket at his house. In a sense, the politicians have become the virtual puppets that are allowing average citizens to deal with some of their rage says game developer Ziad Feghali.

Indeed the games designers at Wixel Studios, Feghali, Reine Abbas and Karim Abi Saleh said their idea was to reflect what they deal with on a daily basis. And in Lebanon, there’s plenty of daily political intrigue and potential for fighting to fuel thousands of virtual scenarios.

Who's the man?

Feghali said that the idea of the website was born from the Lebanese political scene in December 2006, where he witnessed Lebanese youth from the government’s supporters fighting with opposition supporters – both sides armed with sticks and stones.

”I was shocked by the age of these young men. Most of them were not over 17 years old, and they acted more like puppets moved by higher personalities based on sectarian instincts not on a certain belief,” Feghali said.

Indeed, the introduction to the video game reads like a manifesto of youth rage:

“It is commonly known that the world is a big stage that projects different scenes in different places…and as a Lebanese nation we were and still are puppets being operated by others’ interests… For the first time ever, we will reverse the roles and we will actually become puppeteers.”

In the end, the trio from Wixel Studios decided to gather the top Lebanese political leaders in the on-line battlefield. The player chooses his character and his opponent out of seven figures to enter the fight. The points are gathered for each leader in a list that shows the classification of the politicians regarding their popularity in the game.

Currently, the supporters of Michel Aoun of the Christian-led Free Patriotic Movement are at the top of the list, followed by those of the head of the Christian Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, then of Al-Marada leader, Suleiman Franjieh and of Future Movement leader, Saad Hariri.

According to game statistics, the head of the parliament Nabih Berry’s supporters are near the bottom in popularity, and Progressive Socialist Party leader of the Druze, Walid Jumblatt remains out of the game either because his supporters are losing in the game or because they are not interested in it.

Sending a message to the youth

Last April was the official launching of the Douma website, which was followed by another game by the name of Furn el Shebbak where the player bakes pastries and serves them to the customers within allotted time limits. Finally, the last game was also political with the flags of the Lebanese political parties. The aim of this game is to take possession of the flags so the Lebanese Army can then follow and take control.

Feghali said, “Each of the games attracted a great number of internet users. The number of our visitors reached about 200,000 players, but the latest game is the most popular.”

While the creators of Douma didn’t receive any negative or positive reactions from the politicians, Feghali said the game avoids extreme violence, avoids using religious figures and doesn’t manipulate the physical features of the politicians.

“We wanted to send a national message reflecting the Lebanese political scene with switching roles. On one hand, we are trying to prove to the Lebanese youth there is a capacity to access electronic games and create them with the same international quality, which we did. On the other hand, we are working on launching a new and exceptional political game with the idea, the techniques and the characters used in the last one,” Feghali said.

Douma has attracted players of all ages and political backgrounds, and according to the game designers, some have even written in saying the game is addictive for the Lebanese and is a means to release their anger about the degrading political and security situations.

“Not only Lebanese citizens use our website. We have users from the Arab countries in general and the Emirates in particular without us having the means to know if they are Lebanese or Arabs, especially that all the Arab world is currently aware of our issues and problems, and our politicians.”

Concerning the possibility to raise the number of politicians as characters, Feghali answered jokingly, “We are waiting for the results of the (National) dialog, if they decide to broaden their activities, we will add new characters.”

This article was republished with permission from Asharq-Alawsat.