Coming across a character that is supposed to represent us can be upsetting if we are unable to relate to it. No matter what kind of representation it is, people like to see themselves in the media; whether it their nationality, gender, ethnicity, age, etc.
Arab representation is not very popular in the international media we consume. It tends to be either two-dimensional, perpetuate stereotypes, or romanticize settings taken directly from 1001 Arabian Nights.
Luckily, there seems to be a progressive movement towards better representation, and video games is one important medium to carry that message. Within the past 15 years, high-profile games have provided us with exciting characters, settings, and plot lines that portray us in a relatable manner. So we compiled the games that truly understand us!
Arabs Join the Fight
One day, we all woke up to find that the biggest fighting games in the world introduced their own Arab fighters. We are certainly not complaining!
In 2014, Bandai Namco’s Tekken announced its first Saudi character. Shaheen graced our screens and consoles with his familiar traditional headgear. His design was as a result of a collaboration between the developers and the gaming community. The community continuously provided the developers with feedback to ensure the character did not fall into any stereotypical category. This collaborative approach succeeded in creating a beloved character that inspired other series.
Soon after Shaheen’s announcement, Capcom’s Street Fighter revealed their very own Middle-Eastern fighter called Rashid. With traditional headgear as well, the character feels more inspired than original—as if Capcom is trying to play catch up. Still, with a lack of representation, this remains a step forward.
And not much later afterwards, SNK held a worldwide competition for new characters to be included in their next iteration of The King of Fighters, with another Saudi character winning the competition. Saudi artist Mashael Al-Barrak helmed the design of Najd, a female Saudi college student in an Abaya that holds mysterious powers. The character’s concept puts a new spin on female empowerment, rooted in Middle Eastern culture. Najd was officially introduced to the world in The King of Fighter XIV in 2017.
By the mid-aughts, Arab representation in games was limited to sweeping locations and minor characters. When Assassin’s Creed came out in 2007, it surprised Arab gamers, especially Levantine. Assassin’s Creed takes place in the Holy Land in 1191, specifically in Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus. It also follows an Arab protagonist, Al-Tair Ibn La’Ahad, in his journey to regain his memories.
This game turned into a successful series, with each installment set in a different time and place. Assassin’s Creed: Origins returned in 2017 to our region, more specifically to Ancient Egypt. This gave Arab gamers another chance to interact with and live the region’s history.
Shooting games featured Arabs numerous times prior to Overwatch. However, it was always either orientalist in its nature, or focused on a stereotypical image (we’re looking at you, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare). Those characters were also non-playable. Overwatch skips the clichés, featuring Pharah, an Egyptian main character in the game.
The inclusion of the downloadable character, her mother Ana, further expanded the background and story of Pharah. Family values are important for Arabs. With parents heavily influencing the character’s story, the Overwatch team has raised the bar for representation standards.
Fun fact: Ana’s voice actress speaks Arabic throughout the game, which is an exquisite added bonus in our humble opinion.
While it’s clear that games are progressing in the way they are presenting us, Arab representation in media has a lot of room to grow. Here at Tamatem, we are Arab through and through, and we can help you localize your games to fit the region’s expectations, as well as appeal to the Middle Eastern gamer with characters, settings, and plots that they can relate to.