Islamic Video Game Rating System Announced
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 30th Nov 2010
The establishment of an official video game ratings authority and video game rating system for the Islamic world was announced Monday at the Dubai World Game Expo.
The 3rd Dubai World Game Expo (DWGE) opened on 29 November and will run through 1 December. Hosted through the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is the Chairman of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, the DWGE was created to officially introduce a wide variety of computer games, game related hardware, and next-generation platforms, focusing upon games and gaming products produced in the region, for its people, that follow the strict religion-based rules for content.
That part of the world has long had a thriving underground gray-market trade in western games and gaming hardware, due largely to the fact that most of the games released for the popular platforms in the west violate one or more content laws in Middle Eastern countries.
The DWGE is the largest annual gathering of interactive entertainment industry in the region, focusing primarily upon B2B and game consumers in the Middle East, and was viewed as the perfect stage from which to launch the new rating system and rating authority.
"The Expo is the focus of much attention by those who are interested in gaming and so is the logical forum from which to introduce the rating system," according to Dr. Basel Dayyani, a Professor at the American University in Dubai, who spoke with reporters at the event.
An unidentified official at the announcement briefly spoke to the press, observing that the promotion of regional game and software companies was not intended to exclude games created in the west. The official pointed out that there is a growing game industry in the region that has a better understanding of the culture and values of Islam and the new rating system will assist parents and gamers in selecting games that are more appropriate to their age and interests, but that the system was not intended to exclude acceptable western content. When asked what constituted acceptable western content the official cut the interview short, closing his comments with the observation that a determination of that nature would be made by the new rating authority.
The Entertainment Software Rating Association
The creation and purpose of the new rating authority, called the Entertainment Software Rating Association (ESRA), was announced by the Index Conferences and Exhibitions Organisation (ICEO) during a press conference held Monday at the DWGE. The announcement was made in cooperation with the Iran National Foundation of Computer Games, which is the agency largely responsible for the creation of ESRA, its structure, and its protocols, which are designed to evaluate the games and rate them based on their content.
According to Dr. Behrouz Minaei, the managing director at Iran National Foundation of Computer Games, "The rating system is designed based on the culture, society and special values of Islam.
"The approach of Islam is based on Human being innateness -- Al Fitra -- and the most important innate trends are truth, virtue, benevolence, excellence tendency, innovation and creativity. That is why we made sure that the ESRA team are proficient in these areas: Religion, Psychopathology, Educational psychology, Social psychology, Sociology of the Family, Emotional Psychology, Family therapy and Educational technology," Minaei explained.
"The rating of games is a voluntary system and is intended to ensure that games do not violate any of the Islamic traditions, in Islamic countries," says Anas Al Madani, Vice President of the ICEO.
"We as organizers endorse this initiative which aims at evolving the Islamic values and maintain the conservative aspect within the children and the society in general," Madani says. "We are keen on encouraging game developers and publishers to use the ESRA system, as it enables publishers to understand the nature of the Islamic society and the different aspects that it emphasizes."
The underlying motivation
Rumors online suggest that the reason for the new rating system is to make it more difficult for western games to be sold in the region, suggesting that the goal will be to require all games to have an ESRA rating in order to be sold, but the motivation for the move may run in a different, deeper direction.
According to comments made by officials from the various organizations, the primary motivation may be to promote a more Middle Eastern-centric perspective in a gaming world in which the Middle East is often portrayed as the enemy.
"In Communist Czechoslovakia we were in a way in a similar situation, since most of the games we used to play were produced in the West. I remember in particular one strategy game, NATO Commander, in which a player, after being sworn in as NATO's new commander, has to fight and defeat the Warsaw Pact forces in Europe.
"Both the technical details and the unit's deployment were based on reality. Given the geographical situation, the very first mission in the game was to bomb and destroy Prague - my home city at that time. Right up till now I can clearly remember the strange feeling I had when playing this game. It was a good game and I wanted to finish it, but at the same time I felt somehow uneasy about it.
"When interviewing Radwan Kasmiya and other Middle Eastern producers, I realised that they share more or less the same experiences and they feel strongly misrepresented by Western video games. So, in many cases the question of identity was in a sense the primary motivation for these designers to engage in producing games presenting their point of view and featuring their heroes," says Vit Sisler, a Fulbright visiting scholar at the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies at Northwestern University, Chicago in an interview with Religioscope (religion.info).
"Generally speaking, these games exhibit very similar stereotyping and schematisations to those that are already known from other media. They flatten out the diverse ethnic and religious identities of the Islamic world and reconstruct them into a few schematised characters," Sisler explains.
Officials at the ICEO and INFCG brought this line of thought up in the extended discussion following the announcement Monday, citing Sisler as well as other noted experts on the subject. When asked if a rating from the voluntary rating system would be required for games to be offered for sale in the region, no comment was provided.