Hizbullah's new video game
Jihad in cyberspace
Mar 13th 2003 - BEIRUT
From The Economist print edition
This time, Arabs are not the bad guys
YOUR correspondent achieved martyrdom this week. Several times, in fact. He also blew away Ariel Sharon and half the Israeli high command. Readers may be reassured to know that the bullets were virtual ones, fired with a mouse-click while investigating “Special Force”, a computer game devised by Hizbullah, a Shia militia which the Americans deem a terrorist organisation.
Hizbullah is best known for the suicide bombing that killed more than 240 American marines in Lebanon in 1983, and for evicting Israel from its self-declared “security zone” in southern Lebanon in 2000. As well as a private army, it has representatives in the Lebanese parliament and runs schools, clinics and orphanages. Games software is a new venture. Bilal Zein, who helped to develop “Special Force”, argues that there was a gap in the market. Popular American click-and-kill games, such as “Delta Force”, tend to depict Arabs as faceless baddies. Many Arabs, understandably, see things differently.
Otherwise, “Special Force” is a combat game much like any other. Well, almost. Mr Zein is not blind to the game's potential as a public-relations tool. It also allows a form of participation for the “thousands” of volunteers that the group says it has to turn away.
“Special Force” is designed as an introduction to Hizbullah tactics. Stage one takes players to a boot camp where the faces of Israeli leaders grace the target ranges. Success brings a certificate presented by the Hizbullah leader himself, Hassan Nasrallah. Stages two and three replicate actual Hizbullah operations. The game concludes with a gallery of fallen Hizbullah heroes. According to Mr Zein, more than 7,000 copies have been sold since its launch in February.
In the real world, an imperfect truce holds between Israel and Hizbullah, who face each other across the Israeli-Lebanese border, which the official Lebanese army declines to guard. Many Israelis and Lebanese fear that in the event of a war in Iraq, this border could turn suddenly violent. A real war might not be so much fun.