Representation in media is an important part of developing a better understanding of people with different experiences. The kinds of roles that various peoples fill in media tell viewers about those people.
Very often, people who aren’t white—or men, or straight—are represented by stereotypes. Those stereotypes often spring from laziness on the part of creators, but they reinforce racist, sexist, and otherwise oppressive narratives.
Representations of Arabs in media, especially in video games, often suffer from this problem. The use of Arabic characters or the Arabic language, and of Islam in video games has never been particularly well thought out.
There is a tendency, for example, to paint the entire Middle East with one broad brush, erasing the various peoples and traditions that exist within that region.
The best way to counteract poor representation in media is to enlist marginalized people to tell their own stories, but that’s hard to pull off in the big business of video games here in the United States. Luckily, the Saudi Arabian developer Semaphore has a new game in development that aims to address these issues.
Called Badiya, the game is set during the years after World War I, when the country now known as Saudi Arabia was being formed.
The game itself is part of the currently popular survival genre, in which players must find food, construct shelter, and generally try to survive. Many such games have post-apocalyptic themes, but Semaphore chose that genre to both give it a more grounded, realistic angle.
This choice allowed them to give players a sense of what it was like to try and get by in these difficult, often violent times.
They aren’t focusing on specific people or places, but instead trying to bring to life aspects of Arabic culture that many people outside of the Middle East don’t understand.