Most academic research on Islam has, until now, been deeply entrenched in the Western cultural heritage of scholarship based on written materials rather than on oral tradition, despite the important role the latter plays in many Muslim communities. This paradigm prevails not only in our preferences and evaluations of primary sources-where something that is "written" can be quoted and put into a bibliography, i.e., included in the academic rituals-but also in the very way we understand cultural transmission and its methods. As Allievi (2003) says, "We often read Islam through the literature it produces, and from this we deduce Muslims, using a procedure that appears 'natural' to us or which is at any rate habitual for us, whilst it is only 'cultural'" (p. 15). These habitual mechanisms have to be taken into account, particularly when it comes to research on information and communication technology (ICT) and the new patterns of media production and consumption.

This chapter analyzes video games and video clips with an Islamic emphasis and the various levels at which they convey ethical and moral values. Both video games and video clips have been neglected and marginalized by the academy, albeit to varying degrees. Given their pervasiveness, especially among Middle Eastern youth, we are in crucial need today of critical understanding of the different ways these media articulate Islam and communicate it to consumers. This chapter in particular discusses the appropriation of games by various private Islamic companies, operating in the broader religious and cultural context of the Islamic revival and piety movement, for educational purposes. It does not address the political and propagandistic video games of Islamist jihādī movements. Analysis of the latter can be found in other works by the author, e.g., Šisler (2007) and (2008). Finally, this chapter discusses how Islamic game production and, more generally, the public discourse of the Islamic piety movement are shaping mainstream video game production targeted at Muslim audiences and the marketing strategies of game production companies.

Debates related to ICT and Islam focus mainly on websites with written normative content, namely fatwas (legal recommendations) and khutab (Friday sermons), e.g., Bunt (2000, 2003), Brückner (2001), Anderson (1997), and Eickelman and Anderson (2003). Recently, a systematic research exercise analyzing weblogs and their potential role in decision-making processes in Muslim societies has emerged (Bunt, 2009). At the same time, non-written digital media-video games, video clips, audio sermons, etc.-and its role in the articulation of Islam and the reproduction of Islamic culture remain profoundly understudied, despite their arguably important social and cultural impact. This has led Reichmuth and Werning (2006) to introduce an umbrella term "neglected media," which encompasses a broad variety of popular and pervasive media systematically omitted by academia. According to their definition:

Neglected media exhibit strong popular appeal and economic relevance, contrasted by lack of cultural prestige and scientific coverage. Often, they have a profound impact on the collective imagination, although this so-called passive knowledge is seldom accepted as culturally relevant. (p. 47)

Although Reichmuth and Werning have used the concept of neglected media primarily as a theoretical framework for the study of racial schematizations of Arabs and Muslims in video games, the term also encompasses video clips, audio clips, comic strips, board games, etc. The list of neglected media is by definition an open one, as new forms of popular (particularly digital) media emerge almost overnight (e.g., podcasting, modding, machinimas, etc). To transcend the media-centric logic, neglected media are not defined by any specific form, but rather by their pervasiveness, social relevance, and academic marginalization.

Video games and video clips stand for emblematic examples of neglected media. Both constitute a popular leisure time activity for a substantial part of Middle Eastern youth. At the same time, they are increasingly gaining economic and social relevance within the fabric of Middle Eastern consumer culture. Helal Saeed Almarri, general director of Dubai World Trade Centre, has recently stated that digital gaming has turned out to be a very important market in the Middle East, with not only the young population of the region, but also a wider adult audience increasingly investing a higher proportion of its disposable income in specialized hardware and software (Fakhruddin, 2008).

However, the rising video game culture is not limited to only the wealthy Gulf states. The growing emergence of cyber cafés facilitates wide access by consumers in many Muslim countries to the latest game industry products (Baune, 2005). As Abdulla (2007) reports in her survey, there is currently a huge number of internet cafes in Egypt: even in the most rural and poorest areas of the country. Especially in sha'bī (popular) quarters of Middle Eastern cities, one can find plenty of specialized cyber cafés dedicated to gaming. They are equipped with networked computers and occupied till late at night by a predominantly young, male audience-playing games, commenting on how others play, and socializing around these activities. Thus, the consumption of games is by no means only a passive process, but rather it is a dynamic interaction between production and fulfillment of expectations, meanings, and messages.

Conversely, video and audio clips have had a presence in the region for a long time and have already established themselves as important conveyors of religious, cultural, and political messages. Anyone who has carried out fieldwork research in the Middle East has most likely noticed the overwhelming number of audiocassettes, CDs, DVDs, and VCDs with music, movies, lectures, sermons, and other content that are available on every street corner. These media pervade much of society and play an important role in the reproduction of culture. Most popular Islamic lay preachers make sure that their lectures are available both in print and in audio format (Olsson, 2007, p. 8).

As has been stated above, several researchers have already expressed concern that written materials are not necessarily representative in relation to contemporary Islam and media (e.g., Allievi, 2003). This claim pertains particularly to the articulations of Islam within the Arab language sphere. As Amin and Gher (2000) put it:

Arabic cultural heritage must be considered when trying to evaluate the impact of digital communications in the Arab world. Primary among many cultural issues is the fact that the oral tradition is the preferred mode of communication among Arabic peoples. (p. 136)

As early as 1982 Ong coined the term "secondary orality" to describe the tendency of electronic media to echo the communication patterns of oral cultures. His work seems especially prescient in light of recent ICT developments, which have enabled new forms of audiovisual communication, social networking, and non-written individual expression (e.g., video blogging, posting on YouTube, etc.). In the linguistic and cultural context of the Arab world, the notion of oral tradition reveals two important facts. First, given generally lower literacy rates, it has to be taken into account that Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is not the primary communication mode for most of the Arab public.[1] On the contrary, non-written popular media are produced in various linguistic modes, usually combining MSA with a local variation of colloquial Arabic. Second, spoken Arabic offers greater space for structural and semantic repetition, which ensures both linguistic cohesion and rhetorical force. In the Arabic language and the Arab-Islamic cultural tradition, repetition is often used for creating rhetorical presence, which enhances the persuasive potential of the discourse (Johnstone, 1991). As we will demonstrate below, the concept of orality is significant both to Islamic video clips and video games, and particularly to their instructive and educational content.

Theoretical and Methodological Framework

Video games as cultural artifacts and their social connotations are being studied within the framework of game studies. Unlike film or other audiovisual media, video games are interactive, which implies that any content analysis has to cover three intertwined levels: audiovisual features, narrative structure, and game play, which is the rule system governing a player's interaction with the game. On all these levels educational messages or values can be communicated to the players. As Frasca (2004) puts it:

Video games not only represent reality, but also model it through simulations. This form of representation is based on rules that mimic the behavior of the simulated systems. However, unlike narrative authors, simulation authors do not represent a particular event, but a set of potential events. Because of this, we have to think about their objects as systems and consider what laws govern their behaviors. (p. 21)

These rules cannot be described using classical audiovisual methods like segmentation into sequences and shot-by-shot analysis. Several methodological approaches exist for the description of non-determinist structures in game narration. For this paper's purposes we have utilized Finite State Machines and Petri Nets analysis for game description (Natkin and Vega, 2003; Brom and Abonyi, 2006) and segmentation and shot-by-shot analysis for video clip description (Vanoye and Goliot-Lété, 2001).

The materials for this research were gathered during fieldwork in Syria (2005), Lebanon (2005), Egypt (2006-2008), and the United Kingdom (2007). A significant number of games and clips have been downloaded from freely accessible websites, such as You Tube, Islamic Torrents, etc. The materials include more than 120 video games and video clips (mostly in Arabic and English), other para-textual materials related thereto (booklets, manuals, and websites), and interviews with designers and producers.[2]

Islamic Revival and Youth Consumer Culture

The term "Islamic revival" has been commonly used as an umbrella term, referring to various contemporary Islamic movements and their emerging presence in the public space in recent decades. Lapidus (1997) defines "Islamic revival" as both a response to the conditions of modernity-to the centralization of state power and the development of capitalist economies-and a cultural expression of modernity. The revivalist movements emphasize Islamic values and strive to cope with contemporary problems through a renewed commitment to the basic principles, though not the historical details, of Islam. Mahmood (2004) recognizes three important components that make up the Islamic revival: state-oriented political groups and parties, militant Islamists, and a network of socio-religious, non-profit organizations that provide charitable services to the poor and perform the work of proselytizing. At the same time, she stresses that the term refers not only to the activities of state-oriented political groups, but also more broadly to a religious ethos or sensibility that has developed within contemporary Muslim communities. According to her, this sensibility manifests itself, among others ways, in marked displays of religious sociability, including adoption of the hijab (veil) or brisk consumption and production of religious media and literature.

In this chapter, we use the term "Islamic revival" in its broader sense of Islamization of the socio-cultural landscape of media and society. This refers specifically to the growing role Islam and Islamic piety play in the public space, which is visible and audible through books, music, clothes, and new media (Olsson, 2007). At the same time, most media analyzed within this chapter are targeted to younger generations. Given the fact that due to recent demographic developments, some 50 percent of the total population in the Middle East is 18 years of age or younger (Simonsen, 2005), youth, as a social group, and youth consumer culture are of growing importance in the region. Similarly, young people constitute a large and creative part of the Islamic revival (Abu-Lughod, 1998). They consume new technologies and are innovative, when it comes to new political organizations and social movements, including social networks enabled by ICT. Media producers are well aware of this fact and therefore Islamic video games and video clips are designed with the youth consumer base in mind and tend to incorporate and reflect its tastes, fantasies, and expectations. Abaza (2005) describes similar linkages as "a happy marriage between religion and consumer culture in the making" (p. 39). This phenomenon, which Haenni (2005) calls "market Islam," is by no means limited to the realm of new media. It is also becoming increasingly visible in other segments of popular culture as well, such as markets for toys, for women’s fashion, for management literature, or for rap music (Alim, 2005). The fact that culture and religion are increasingly becoming a market issue prevents clear distinction of the religious, educational, and economic motivations among media producers-if such a thing were ever possible. As we will demonstrate below, the Islamic educational media market is open to various subjects with significantly different backgrounds, motivations, and agendas.

Video Games, Education, and the Communication of Values

As Piaget (1962) argues, play is a crucial method through which we test ideas, develop new skills, and participate in new social roles. In this respect early video games raised various expectations about their educational value. Given the fact that motivation is regarded to be a key aspect of effective learning, the popularity of games among younger generations inspired many educators. Indeed, early research on arcade-style games has demonstrated that games create intrinsic motivation through fantasy, control, challenge, curiosity, and competition (Malone, 1981). Bogost (2007) argues that video games open a new domain for persuasion and instruction, thanks to their core representational mode, procedurality. He calls this new form "procedural rhetoric" and defines it as the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions, rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures. As Bogost explains:

This type of persuasion is tied to the core affordances of the computer: computers run processes, they execute calculations and rule-based symbolic manipulations. [...] Among computer software, I want to suggest that videogames have unique persuasive power. [...] In addition to becoming instrumental tools for institutional goals, video games can also disrupt and change fundamental attitudes and beliefs about the world, leading to potentially significant long-term social change. (p. ix)

The high popularity and consumption of games has even led some authors to suggest that children of the "video game generation" do not respond to traditional instruction, and developing educational games is thus a necessity (Prensky, 2001). Several Middle Eastern game designers, including Radwan Kasmiya, CEO of the Syrian company Afkar Media, have actually expressed the same concern. They have stated that young Arabs "do not read any more," so video games are needed to teach them about the history of Islamic civilization (Šisler, 2006, p. 77).

The majority of educational games with an Islamic emphasis, produced either in the West or in the Middle East, fall into the category of so-called edutainment (i.e., educational entertainment). Most edutainment products are designed according to a behaviorist paradigm, exposing players to educational content, testing them (via quizzes and puzzles), and finally allowing them to play the game as a reward. As recent research suggests, the high expectations that early edutainment would enhance learning have not been achieved. The reasons mentioned in this regard are that such tools were poorly designed, simplistic, repetitious, and did not allow players any active exploration opportunities (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005). Nevertheless, despite their simplicity, the Islamic edutainment games seem to be quite successful economically, at least from their increasing presence in the market. Their marketing strategies usually target parents, offering them "safe" entertainment for their children, more or less connected with education on the basic tenets of Islam. The following advertisement by the company Islam Games represents a generic example:

Our goal is to provide you with quality, Islamic entertainment for both you and your children. Thanks to high levels of interaction, video games are actually a great learning tool. Yet, unfortunately, many games available on the market address issues contrary to the teachings of Islam. This results in our children tending to identify with secular values and concepts more than with those of Islam. By providing an alternative to mainstream video games, we can help our children, in a subtle way, learn to identify with Islamic values, and thereby become more closely attuned to the teachings of Islam.[3]

A typical product of Islamic edutainment are CDs and DVDs, with a set of simple games, puzzles, and quizzes, aimed at teaching the hadith (sayings and deeds of the prophet, Muhammad), verses of the Qur'an, prescriptions for ritual ablution and prayer, etc. Besides games, they often contain short, animated video clips with educational or moral messages, e.g., Syrian educational CD Ta'lim al-salawat (Fig. 1). The video clips follow a typified narrative structure, usually exposing the main character to a temptation that he or she overcomes with the help of the teaching of Islam. In the end the reference to the corresponding hadith or Qur'anic verse is included. Other educational products (e.g., Egyptian Arkan al-Islam) simply instruct children how to behave in particular situations, like giving thanks before meals, proper Islamic greetings, etc. If a game is intended to communicate Muslim values to the player, it reflects the same patterns using basic interactive elements, like choosing the right (sahīh) scenario from among various options (Egyptian game Al-Muslim al-saghir, Fig. 2), putting together Qur'anic verses from Arabic letters, or adventure games focused on searching for collections of hadith (i.e., the U.K. game Abu Isas, Quest for Knowledge, Abu Isas Games, 2006).

Taalim
Figure 1. Ta'lim al-salawat.

Close examination of the above-mentioned advertisement by the company Islam Games reveals that the text is in fact marketing two different things to parents. First, the obvious Islamic educational content, and second, the educational potential of video games per se. In most cases, however, the game and the educational content constitute two separate elements. Oftentimes, an educational video clip is followed by a classic video game without any Islamic emphasis, serving only as a possible reward and motivating factor for the children (e.g., Egyptian al-Mughamirun). Given the high popularity of video games among youth, they are often used for promotional purposes (Šisler, 2005). In 2007, a number of U.S. churches used the commercially successful, first-person shooter game Halo 3 for so-called LAN parties to attract young to people to the church (Richtel, 2007). A similar strategy, i.e., including games on their websites, was recommended to internet evangelists.[4] Many Islamic websites dedicated to da'wa (invitation to Islam) have been actually using the same concept for years-e.g., NetMuslims.com. In this context, the games themselves have no educational or proselytizing content-they are purely fun and a vehicle for peaking interest in the web-page content. In some cases, the economic motives behind the production of so-called "Islamic" games seem to be more relevant than the religious ones. For instance, the U.K. game Abu Isa's A New Dawn: Learn Asma-ul-Husna (Abu Isas Games, 2006) is a classic action game that places the player in the role of spaceship pilot and is allegedly aimed at the teaching of Asmā al-Husnā (The 99 Most Beautiful Names of God). As the package labeling says: "Battle your way through enemy planets while learning the names and attributes of your Creator." The educational aspect of the game manifests itself only via the display of a random Name of God on the screen every time the player scores.

Muslim Saghir
Figure 2. Al-Muslim al-saghir (Safeer).

Despite the fact that markets in many Middle Eastern cities seem to be flooded by such Islamic edutainment products and a substantial number of these are produced also by American and European companies, simple games and animated video clips seem to satisfy mainly younger kids (6-10 years old). For older audiences, these games pale in technological and conceptual comparison with mainstream game production. As a reviewer noted about the Islamic educational game Maze of Destiny, produced by Islam Games: "Not at all what we expected, far too boring for children by today's gaming standards." (Samina Saeed)[5] Similar observations have been made regarding edutainment products in general-simple educational games do not easily attract teenagers (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005).

Immersive Learning Environments: Virtual Muslim Worlds

As early as 1993, McDonnell stated that "education, including religious education, has on the whole been comfortable with the language of print and the logical, sequential mode of thinking that print favors. Now, religious education has to find ways to understand and appreciate the non-linear, associative mode of making sense of the world." (p. 98) This observation relates noticeably to the above-mentioned Islamic edutainment products, which do not really utilize the fundamental features of video games-i.e., interactivity, immersion and exploration. A recent trend in game-based learning is built on the concept of so-called "immersive worlds." De Freitas (2006) defines immersive worlds as given environments, which may be explored in a nonlinear way by learners. They include artifacts and objects and allow users to learn by exploring the environment and its objects in a relatively open-ended way.

Probably the first game with an Islamic emphasis that has to some extent utilized the concept of immersive worlds is Quraish, created by the Syrian company Afkar Media in 2005 (Fig. 3). This real-time, strategy game takes place in pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods and deals with the origin and spread of Islam. It allows the player to control four different nations, i.e., pagan Bedouins, Muslim Arabs, Zoroastrian Persians, and Christian Romans, and presents him or her with the various perceptions of Islam that these nations possess. Quraish in particular meets the above-mentioned claim of Arab oral culture heritage, as every mission starts with an unusually long and well-developed introductory story narrated in classical Arabic. Through these introductions and the unfolding game narrative, the players are taught about pre-Islamic, Arab culture and early Islamic history. During the particular missions the player takes part in many real historical events (e.g., the war between the Ghassanids and the Lakhmids) and visits places like Hira, Ukaz, or Medina, whose topographies seem to be based on available historical descriptions. By situating the player inside a simulated world, the game arguably develops a deeper understanding of the broader geographical, social, and economic processes determining the historical spread of Islam. At the same time, game play communicates Islamic moral and ethical values to the player (Šisler, 2007). Unlike previous educational games, Afkar Media products cannot be simply lumped into the framework of the Islamic revival, since their mission is more educational and cultural in nature. Radwan Kasmyia, CEO of Afkar Media, explains that he refuses the concept of da'wa in video games and perceives the games rather as a cutting-edge venue for cultural dialogue (Šisler, 2006).

Quraish
Figure 3. Quraish, Afkar Media, 2005.

In January 2008 the release of a new Islamic educational game was announced. The game, which was conceived in Saudi Arabia and is supposed to be developed in Europe, looks to help children learn about the Hajj pilgrimage. Players will supposedly be able to lead pilgrims through the different stages of Hajj by acting as security guards, first-aid workers, or other service providers. According to the authors, educational bodies and psychologists from Saudi Arabia will oversee the game's development. The Hajj game aims to provide a positive learning experience for children, a feature that is arguably missing in popular video games. As Amer bin Mohamed Al-Mutawa, one of the designers, says:

Most video games available on the local market today do not contribute to increasing the skills or the intellectual capacities of consumers and do not encourage good deeds among children. Furthermore, these games rely heavily on the concept of "survival of the fittest" through theft, kidnapping, murder, destruction, and the creation and manipulation, for example, of mafia groups in order to win the game.[6]

The Hajj game is clearly morally and religiously focused, in a way similar to the educational games mentioned above. Nevertheless, the concept of immersive 3D virtual environment, which allows players to engage directly in the organization of the Hajj, transcends the simple framework of edutainment.

The most-developed example of an Islamic learning immersive environment to date represents a re-creation of the city of Mecca and the Hajj pilgrimage in Second Life, a user-created virtual world originally developed by Linden Labs in 2003 (Fig. 4). The simulation of the Hajj and Mecca is sponsored by Islam Online, a popular and comprehensive Islamic website loosely associated with the Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi.[7] The Mecca simulation was released in December 2007, just prior to the 2007-2008 Hajj season, with the purpose of educating Muslims about how to participate in the Hajj and non-Muslims about the important ritual and the various steps that pilgrims take therein. In the simulation, all parts of Mecca relevant to the Hajj are recreated, together with clearly defined paths marked by large, chronologically ordered numbers placed throughout. These numbers, once "touched," activate a note card that gives the virtual pilgrims specific information about their present station, and any instructions for that station (Derrickson, 2008). The project designers say the degree of interactivity in the 3D virtual world allows participants the ultimate step-by-step guide to the Hajj:

The Second Life Hajj project is exceptional in that it breaks all the traditional limits of training. It allows the trainees to actually interact and be part of the program, in addition to providing them all the textual material they may need.[8]

The games Quraish, the virtual Hajj in Second Life, and the planned Hajj Saudi game all represent a fundamental change in the realm of Islamic educational media. Instead of exposing consumers to Islamic, "halal," or religious instructive content, which is the case with video clips and most other edutainment, these games situate the players in immersive environments and encourage them to experience various situations and processes firsthand. These games in particular meet the above-mentioned claim by Bogost on procedural rhetoric and specific persuasive potential based on core affordances of the computer. The imprint from any instruction and education in a well-designed, immersive environment is, according to Squire (2004) and Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2005), deeper and arguably produces better learning effects than do traditional methods of instruction. This applies particularly to the understanding of certain key principles of given topics, mainly when dealing with complicated and multifaceted issues that are hard to comprehend through factual knowledge only. As Gee (2005) puts it, a large body of facts that resist out-of-context memorization becomes easier to assimilate if learners are immersed in activities and experiences that use these facts for plans, goals, and purposes within a coherent knowledge domain.

Second Life
Figure 4. Second Life, Linden Lab, 2003. Courtesy of Krystina Derrickson.

However, academic research findings suggest that it is extremely difficult to prove a direct causal link between the messages disseminated by the mass media and changes in people's behavior (McDonnell, 1993). By the same token, we argue that Islamic educational games can be particularly successful in instructing children how to pray (like Ta'lim al-salawat), developing gamers' understanding of the historical background of the spread of Islam (Quraish), and explaining step-by-step Hajj rituals (Mecca simulation in Second Life). Yet, given the ambiguous results of research on media's influence on people's behavior in general, it seems to us that it is hard to prove how these games influence users' personalities, beliefs, and motivations. Given that communication of values arguably constitutes an important part of Islamic educational games, such questions are of significant importance and raise issues for further research. Nevertheless, the increasing production of such materials suggests that both producers and consumers (or, in the case of Islamic edutainment, the parents) consider the educational impact relevant. Be this as it may, immersive virtual worlds could possibly well indicate the future shape of what Bunt (2003) calls "cyber Islamic environments," moving toward creatively connecting gaming technologies, social networking, and Islamic values.

Video Blogging for Islam

The use of ICT for education and communication of values within the sphere of popular youth culture is not limited only to educational video games or video clips distributed on CDs, VCDs, and DVDs. Recent surveys show that young people in the Middle East increasingly utilize the internet for entertainment, research, socializing, and social networking (Baune, 2005; Hofheinz, 2007; Abdulla, 2007). One specific format that seems to be popular among Muslim youth is video blogging-posting short video clips created by individual users on the internet, mainly through public venues such as You Tube or on individual blogs. Many of these video blogs share the same agenda as the games discussed above-i.e., "halal" entertainment, education, and the spread of the Islamic message; for example, Ummah Films[9] or Dawah Works.[10] The latter's mission statement is again generic for a broader group of blogs:

We at Dawah Works are not professional filmmakers, but we will attempt to bring halal entertainment and information to Muslims and non-Muslims. With the popularity of other film groups we realized that the medium of video blogs can aid us (Inshallah) in promoting Islam. We would like to interact with and initiate thought among Muslims & non-Muslims.[11]

Most of the clips posted on such video blogs feature the authors expressing their beliefs, commenting on various social topics (e.g., wearing hijab, drinking alcohol, smoking, dating) and sharing their perspectives on Islam with others. Often they post materials borrowed from satellite channels and other websites they find interesting. A symbolic example of the latter is the series Shaitan: Video Blog from the Devil, originally broadcast by the Al-Resalah channel and then posted on You Tube by a user called KnowledgeIsLight27.[12] The series soon appeared on many other sites and provoked heavy comment and discussion by other users. Table 1 shows a transcript of the popular Hijab episode:

Table 1. Transcript of Shaitan: Video Blog From the Devil - Hijab episode

Bedroom. Probably evening. A dim lamp is switched on. A girl in a modest plain abaya is adjusting her hijab in front of a mirror.

 

Suddenly she hears the voice of the devil.

Devil (in colloquial Arabic): "Are you going out like that?"

The devil (dressed as a young man in black) appears in the mirror.

"What would people say?"

They both closely inspect the girl's face in the mirror.

"Your face looks so pale..."

The girl starts to seem uneasy. She touches her face.

"... and your eyes are swollen as if you have just got out of bed."

 

"No, no..."

Close up of girl's face. She examines herself with growing disaffection.

"You must at least wear some makeup! Just a little, no one will notice."

The devil teases her.

"Are you going to a funeral?"

He walks around her in pretentious dismay.

"Oh my God, what are you wearing?! It makes you look like a black bag."

The devil stands behind the girl and looks directly into her eyes in the mirror.

(in a serious voice) "Do you want your friends to make fun of you? What do you want them to say about you?"

 

(in an ironic voice) "You couldn't find anything to wear except to wear your mom's abaya?! You must pick a cool abaya that suits you!"

The girl slowly unties her hijab... The devil has a satisfied look on his face.

"Who told you that you must cover all your hair? Loosen it a bit!"

Cut. The devil hides himself in a wardrobe and closes the door behind him. On the other side of the door is a mirror.

"The guys won't bite you!"

We can see the girl in this mirror. She has make up on, her loose hijab revealing her hair and decorated abaya.

"Now you look so cool and beautiful and your hijab is just the same..."

Phone rings. The girl answers. Camera slowly moves around her body. Fade out.

Girl: "Yalla, yalla, I'm coming." (We can hear the devil breathing.)

Cut. The head of another devil appears surrounded by darkness.

Second devil: "Hijab you say, huh?"

The Quranic verse appears on the screen.

Narrator (in MSA): "And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that they should not display their beauty and armaments except what (ordinarily) appear there of."

The narrative structure of the Shaitan video clips follows the same pattern as the above-mentioned animated videos for children, although its target audience is considerably older. The actors in the clips face temptations, which they can resist with the help of the teachings of Islam, or alternatively they give in to them. Sometimes viewers see both options and their subsequent results. In the end, there is always a reference to the particular rule of law, i.e., Qur'an or hadith. The important and novel aspect of video blogging is that it effectively creates a space for discussion, exchange of opinions, and self-expression, as is demonstrated in many commentaries posted under the video, e.g.:

wow! someone actually feels the same as i do?! amazing, ALLAH HAFIZ to all muslimahs! (cabwhisperer)[13]

Thank you KnowledgeIsLight27. I love your creativity you show thru your videos. Very interesting. I wasnt a religious person (altho i never smoke, never drink, never clubbing & partying, etc) but i was very lazy when it came to Solat. Sometimes i did, sometimes not. Thanks to YouTube, i regained Hidayah from Allah. Praise to Allah the Most Merciful. He still loved me, and He wanted me to change, to be a better person. I love you, ya Allah! Give me more of your Hidayah and Light! (ladynox200)[14]

Given the global character of the internet, video blogging in fact effectively creates a specific manifestation of what Eickelman and Anderson (2003) call the Muslim "transnational public sphere." The audio-visual character of the medium, as well as the chat-like nature of the subsequent commentaries both exemplify Ong's concept of second orality, with its participatory, interactive, and communal aspects. At the same time, the non-hierarchical and do-it-yourself character of the blogging culture appeals to youth and provides them a space for construction and representation of their individual identities. The combination of entertainment, youth consumer culture, and Islamic piety echoes the above-mentioned examples of video games. By utilizing various mainstream media the video and game producers, in fact, transcend confinement to Islamic movements and generally promote a more religious, rather than cultural, concept of Muslim identity. As we will demonstrate, this concept has started to be slowly, albeit increasingly, accepted by the mainstream media.

Targeting New Audiences: Religious Sensitivity in Mainstream Game Production

Generally speaking, until recently the global video game industry seemed to show little, if any, cultural and religious sensitivity toward Muslim (and Middle Eastern) audiences. A vast majority of Western games featuring Arabs and Muslims (or taking place in Middle Eastern settings) represent them in either an Orientalist manner or within a conflict framework, exploiting concepts that stereotype religious fundamentalism and/or terrorism. Racial stereotypes regarding Arabs and Muslims seem to be more overt and explicit in video games (more so than in any other media), particularly because of the lack of media critique and academic coverage (Šisler, 2008; Reichmuth and Werning, 2006). However, with the rising self-awareness of Muslim audiences and the emerging Middle Eastern game industry, this paradigm is about to change. This also draws attention to the economic reasons for the time-dominant modes of representation used thus far. As Western game companies start entering Middle Eastern markets, they have to increasingly target Muslim audiences and pay attention to their religious beliefs and concerns.

The game Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, produced by IO Interactive in 2002, most likely sets a precedent for game designers' awareness of religious sensitivity. The player in this first-person shooter represents a high-target hitman, working for an international contractor, whose task is to assassinate a leader of a global terrorist sect. However, the visual signifiers depicting the members of this terrorist group resemble those of Sikhism. One of the missions takes place in a shrine, which corresponds architecturally with the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple), the spiritual and cultural center of the Sikh religion located in the city of Amritsar in Punjab, India. After a massive campaign, led predominantly by Sikh minorities living in Europe and the U.S., the developer of the game, Eidos Company, promised to remove all offensive elements from any future releases of this game. At the same time, Eidos stated that it had learned from the debacle, and would "observe and respect cultural, religious and ethical sensitivities in its future products."[15]

A similar religious and cultural sensitivity is increasingly becoming part of contemporary popular media productions, whose target audiences could possibly include Muslims. In 2007 Ubisoft released a game called Assassin's Creed, which deals with the Ismaeli Sect of Hashshashin and is situated in The Holy Land during the Third Crusade (approx. 1191 AD). The player assumes the role of Altair, an elite assassin, whose task is to eliminate nine Crusader and Saracen leaders. The authors' intention to avoid possible controversies rising from the game's religious and political connotations is clear from the beginning. The game itself starts with a disclaimer: "This work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs." The following narrative states that Altair comes from a mixed Christian-Muslim background, leaving his personal religious convictions open. His violent mission is defined by the somehow broad, ethical context of stopping the atrocities committed by both sides in the conflict. As Corey May, the game scriptwriter, sums it up:

As the Saracens and Crusaders battle one another for control, the assassins are working to find a way to end the hostilities. They see the war as pointless. [...] The assassins are not allied with either side of the conflict, nor are they driven by a desire for profit or power. They are also not interested in furthering a religious agenda. In fact, they are generally opposed to most forms of organized religion. [...] The assassins are fighting to end the Third Crusade.[16]

This discrepancy between the game narrative and the real, historical background of the Hashshashin Sect could actually serve a marketing purpose. Depicting the assassins as being outside both the religious and conflict frameworks gives consumers the opportunity to identify themselves with the hero, regardless of their geographical or religious origin. Positive reception of the game by Muslim players on the internet in fact proves the correctness of this strategy, e.g.:

I love [this game]. It makes Muslims look really cool. (Simba, Sunni Muslim)[17]

Did anyone know that Altair from Assassin's Creed is a Muslim? Wow, I am a Muslim. I can finally relate my self to videogames. (furqan2006)[18]

Paradoxically, another marketing strategy capitalizes on the game's alleged accuracy in terms of architecture and depiction of daily life in the medieval cities of Damascus, Jerusalem, and Acre. In a promotional video, producer Jade Raymond says: "We have recreated these Middle Eastern cities exactly as they were in 1191 A.D. We have worked with historians in order to find all existing documents and materials."[19] Given the fact that most games until now have constructed the Middle East mostly in quasi-historical or fantasy manner (Šisler, 2008), the proclaimed authenticity of Assassin's Creed could be of relevance to the Muslim public-e.g.:

It is the only game my parents pay attention to when I'm playing, as they always want to see the mosque and Jerusalem and other Muslim icons like Prophet Solomon's grave. (joshF2295)[20]


Assassins Creed
Figure 5. Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft, 2007.   

Important factors that have an impact on the growing interest of video game producers in the Middle Eastern markets are, first, slowly improving copyright law enforcement in the Middle East, and, second, the growing economic relevance of the Middle Eastern consumer culture, especially as it relates to youth. As Jens Hilgers, CEO of Turtle Entertainment, says: "The business potential of electronic gaming is enormous, and the market in the Middle East is proving incredibly receptive to new games." (Fakhruddin, 2008)

Unlike the above-discussed case of Assassin's Creed, in which the sensitivity toward religion shown in the design of its game play and narrative constitutes rather a pragmatic step aimed at easing acceptance of the product by global Muslim audiences, some video games are exclusively designed for Middle Eastern markets. This is the case with Arabian Lords (Sadat al-sahra'), a real-time strategy game developed in 2007 as part of a cooperative effort between the U.S. company BreakAway Games and the Jordanian studio Quirkat. According to the authors' statement, their goal was to create a fun, exciting strategy game that would appeal to Middle Eastern gamers:

With this product historical accuracy and cultural relevance became important guiding factors. We knew that, on a cultural level, religion played a major role during the time span covered in the game, and that it still does today. We wanted to make sure to include this in a way that would honor its significance, while being sensitive to all religious and cultural concerns.[21]

The Arabian Lords game enables the player to assume the role of a medieval Muslim merchant, and its game play involves building cities, municipal politics, diplomacy, espionage, etc. It includes many distinguishing features of early Islamic civilization, such as poetry contests, camel markets, etc. Nevertheless, regarding all levels of the game-including narrative, game play, and visual signifiers-designers have paid attention to the delicate subject of representing Islam, e.g., in the role of imam in the game. Arabian Lords is available in both English and Arabic, and, according to the producers, the game "was an instant success in the Arab world."[22] As a result, Quirkat and BreakAway Games are preparing a new project based on Arab mythology, which is again designed primarily for Arab markets-a trading-card game called Mythic Palace (Qasr al-asatir).[23]

Arabian Lords
Figure 6. Arabian Lords, BreakAway Games, 2007.

With the growing importance of the Middle Eastern marketplace, we can expect more culturally and religiously "localized" projects to follow. Therefore, based on the concerns of global media producers, the emerging Muslim consumer culture is shaping global patterns of production and consumption. Moreover, the present public discourse of Islamic revival and the piety movement, both audible and visible in various Islamic media production, reconfigures the generally accepted concept of Muslim identity itself.

Conclusions

This chapter has analyzed how Islam is articulated and how Islamic values are communicated to consumers in two emerging forms of non-written digital media-video games and video clips. The analysis has covered a broad range of examples, originating from both Muslim majority and Muslim minority settings in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States respectively.

The underlying logic behind all the examples analyzed emphasizes private Islamic piety and individual self-determination. The consumer is usually addressed as an individual, who has the chance to change his life, repent and strive to be a better Muslim. The trope is centered on the topics of personal piety-e.g., wearing the hijab, respecting one's parents, praying, doing good deeds, etc. In this sense, most of the video clips and games are engaging and educational. However, we can hardly find any "call for action" in the sense of direct social or political involvement. This represents a substantial difference from games with an agenda produced in the West, which are often used for straightforward social or political activism. Exceptions are the already-mentioned games and clips with an Islamist agenda, ranging from jihādī videos posted on You Tube to the virtual re-creation of battles by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, whose aims are promotional and propagandistic (Šisler, 2007 and 2008).

Conversely, most of the Islamic clips and games actually strive to promote "positive" or "family" values, deliberately distinguishing themselves from mainstream game production, which is labeled as "morally corrupt," "violent," or simply "not promoting the good values." As such, these products are marketed to a broader audience, which does not necessarily have to be Muslim. For example, the animated characters of the Egyptian educational series Al-Muttahidun (New Way Group) are advertised as "the good heroes, who at all times strive for justice and promote good and kindness." The key underlying message for parents is that the product is safe to buy. This strategy resembles the advertising campaigns of the so-called "Barbie non-Barbie dolls," Razanne and Fulla, which are reportedly also being bought by Christian families who are dissatisfied with the explicit sexuality of Barbie [Kuppinger].

Another important aspect is that most of the Islamic video games and clips are produced by private companies or individuals. This needs to be considered, within the broader framework of the above-mentioned Islamic revival or piety movement, as an ongoing privatization of Islamic knowledge production. As Patrick Haenni points out in his interview with Ursula Lindsey:

When we speak of Islamic revival, we always focus on politically-organized groups intent on gaining power. But "private religious entrepreneurs" are just as important a phenomenon. These entrepreneurs target the upper middle class, and focus on personal enlightenment rather than political engagement. They're socially conservative and opposed to what they see as the decadence of much of Western culture. But they want to benefit from Western science, education, and progress, and they condemn violence and extremism. [...] They fully use all the means of mass culture, [like] chats on the Net, chat shows on TV, Islamic rap in the West. (Lindsey, 2006)

The cultural appropriation of originally "foreign" media-as is the case with video games or video blogs-together with the new persuasive strategies these media possess, like the immersion of players in virtual environments or the viral dissemination of clips through the blogosphere, constitutes a fundamental change in the communication of religious values. The new strategy capitalizes on the consumers' self-action and engagement, as well as on the appeal these new media have for the younger generation. At the same time, this appropriation of Western media has occurred mainly on a symbolic level; whereas, on a structural level, the product remains mostly unchanged. For example, in most cases, Islamic video games adopt the patterns, i.e. game play and narrative structure, of Western established genres, like edutainment, real time strategy games or first-person shooters. A similar phenomenon is actually the case with the well-known example, Mecca Cola or Cola Turka [Mutlu]: both capitalize on the Coca Cola concept.

Last but not least, the increasing manifestation of Islamic values in the public sphere influences mainstream media production aimed at Muslim audiences or Middle Eastern markets. This is an important phenomenon, particularly in the realm of video games, where religious and cultural sensitivity has until recently been a non-existent concept.

Acknowledgments

This chapter is based on a research project on Islam, the Middle East, and digital media (digitalislam.eu). The project is funded by the research grants "GAUK 125408" and "GRANTY/2008/547," financed by the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts and Grant Agency of Charles University in Prague (GAUK).

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Notes


[1] At the same time, the written sources studied by Western academia are almost exclusively in MSA.

[2] A comprehensive database with references to most of the material analyzed in this chapter can be found on the website Digital Islam (http://www.digitalislam.eu/).

[3] Retrieved July 20, 2005, from http://www.islamgames.com

[4] "By offering a range of fun games to play, an evangelistic website can become more sticky-i.e. encourage return visits and enhance the perceived value of the site. In this context, the games themselves have no evangelistic content-they are purely ethical fun." Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://guide.gospelcom.net/resources/games.php

[5] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://simplyislam.com/iteminfo.asp?item=54854

[6] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=7&id=11393

[7] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.islamonline.net//english/index.shtml

[8] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&pagename=Zone-English-News/NWELayout&cid=1196786035497

[9] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.ummahfilms.com/home.html

[10] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://dawahworks.com/

[11] ibid.

[12] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUS0ZeGRkEY

[13] ibid.

[14] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bto0xikkcW4&feature=related

[15] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/11/13/eidos_settles_hitman_sikh_dispute. A similar concept of religious and cultural sensitivity can also increasingly be observed in relation to Islam. Recently, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced that the phrase "Allahu Akbar" will be removed from the upcoming game Zack & Wiki developed by Capcom. This is because the Council had found the in-game context of the phrase offensive. Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.gamedaily.com/articles/news/islamic-phrase-removed-from-capcoms-zack-and-wiki/17735/?biz=1

[16] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.1up.com/do/previewPage?cId=3154208

[17] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://muslimonline.org/forum/index.php?s=b323a113b26682f37683f45ea382cc78&showtopic=3833&pid=49872&st=0&#entry49872

[18] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.gamespot.com/pages/forums/show_msgs.php?topic_id=26053507

[19] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://assassinscreed.uk.ubi.com/home.php#/devdiary/

[20] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.gamespot.com/pages/forums/show_msgs.php?topic_id=26053507

[21] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.arabianlords.com/Public/public_master.aspx?Site_Id=2&Page_Id=424&Path=66

[22] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.breakawaygames.com/entertainment/feature/

[23] Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.mythicpalacegame.com