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Middle East's Game Industry Creates Islam-Centric Game Ratings
Middle East's Game Industry Creates Islam-Centric Game Ratings
November 30, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

November 30, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
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The Iran National Foundation of Computer Games used the Dubai World Game Expo to stage the unveiling of a new ratings body for the Middle East, which evaluates game content against the values of Islam.

The Entertainment Software Rating Association, or ESRA, will measure violence, substance use and sexuality in games against Islamic values, in line with a system developed by a National Foundation of Computer Games research team.

"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," explains the foundation's Dr. Behrouz Minaei.

"That's why we made sure that ESRA team are proficient in these areas; Religion, Psychopathology, Educational psychology, Social psychology, Sociology of the family, Family Sociology, Emotional Psychology, Family therapy and Educational technology."

Minaei and his team also studied other nations' ratings organizations and extrapolated it against their own local culture to define ratings by age. "The rating system is designed based on the culture, society and the special values of Islam," he added.

The announcement also emphasized the importance of a rating system that allows parents to monitor content and "understand its effect on their children's behaviour especially from the social aspect, bearing in mind that the Islamic society is considered a conservative society."

Index Holding, organizer of the Dubai World Expo, encouraged developers to use ESRA ratings, promising to help facilitate communication between the creators of the new content rating system and game developers globally.

"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," said Index's Anas Al Madani.

The Dubai World Game Expo, in its third year, runs from today, November 30 through December 1.


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Comments


Robert Schmidt
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I hope this is an advisory system rather than a sensorship.

Eric Geer
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I think it is just that, as they have noted multiple times in the article that it is ratings versus censorship. They just want to encourage developers to keep in mind Islamic society and its culture in mind when developing games---if it doesn't fit the bill it probably won't sell well in the Middle East.

Ivan-Assen Ivanov
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Unlike... some other games I can't exactly think of right now that _do_ sell well in the Middle East? Not exactly the Mecca of gaming.

George Monroy
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Well all they need are wife beating sims and those games will sell greatly.

Hannah Wood
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I really hoped I wouldn't see comments like this for this article.

Amir Sharar
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Hannah, it's the Internet, you can expect bigotry/racism/sexism even if you try your best to avoid it. :)

Christopher Myburgh
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"Contains suicide bombings. Services to Allah = 3/3. Suitable for all ages."

Eric Geer
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Wow...just Wow.

Amir Sharar
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The only issue I find with this is that there is a large mosaic of "Islamic values" that differ from nation to nation, much of it largely influenced by culture. It will be interesting to see what common grounds they can come up with, considering that core beliefs have been challenged by sects (eg. Radicals, Saudi Theocracy, the former I don't imagine being part of the process, lol) along with the differences between the Sunni and Shi'ite sects, it can complicate the process.



Secondly, it seems that many of the times the scholars voicing their opinions have little knowledge on modern technologies and their social impact. This combination of industry players, psychologists, and scholars may arrive at a balanced and well educated opinion (one would hope).



But it is interesting that they are looking at these games with different metrics, such as educational value, as it might encourage developers to excel in these areas. It also points out the stark difference in perception of media in that region and in ours. People there are beginning to become more conscious of what they "consume" media wise as one would be conscious of what they consume in terms of what they eat. The adage "you are what you eat" applying to movies, games and TV shows. I think this ratings board reflects that mentality and makes it apparent.

raigan burns
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I can't believe the team is proficient in both "Sociology of the family" _and_ "Family Sociology"! Amazing!!

Mark Venturelli
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They also do sociology with their parents, brothers and cousins :D

Jed Hubic
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Rated M: Graphic ankle content.

David Boudreau
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There was a recent event held in the middle east where they hosted the best Street Fighter player and gave a chance for the local players to play him. That game shows all kinds of violence, and women without legal garb. In fact I hear one of the most popular characters doesn't have a head cover.

Christopher Myburgh
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Islam has values? News to me...

Doug Poston
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This is either a poor joke or you really need to get your world view updated from other sources.



You may not agree with Islamic values, but they definitely have them.

Jan Koschel
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It is sad to see how several of the people commenting react to this article. It indicates an attitude of perceived cultural superiority of the Western culture towards other cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions.



I welcome the efforts of the ESRA and I am eager to see to which degree their rating guidelines will affect the development efforts of game developers that are targeting a global audience and a global community.

Christopher Myburgh
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I certainly don't employ "Western" religious beliefs or traditions. Had this article been about a Christian ratings body, my comments would barely have been any different. This ESRA is a shining example of Islamic-hypocrisy and indeed the hypocrisy of just about any religion on the subject of "values".

Eric Geer
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"This ESRA is a shining example of Islamic-hypocrisy and indeed the hypocrisy of just about any religion on the subject of "values"."



Terrible assumption and generalization--

I think you should say an individuals hypocrisy opposed to targeting Islam---there is plenty of hypocricy that happens across the board for all religions--it is an unfair generalization that you would say that about Islamic culture or any other religion---the religion isn't the bad thing--its those who generalize and amend the scriptures of various religions to their own skewed likings

Christopher Myburgh
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Religion is the greatest source of evil in the world. There is no worse "thing". The very scriptures themselves were created (and continue to be used) as tools for the "skewed likings" of rulers and dictators vying for social control and blind obedience through unquestioning faith.

Adam Harris
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Oh here we go, blaming religion for all the world's ills! What did religion have to do with World War 1 and World War 2, some of the biggest wars in history? What did religion have to do with the Vietnam War, Falklands War, Gulf War, Korean War, etc etc? What did religion have to do with the tens of millions killed in the Soviet Union by communist atheist leaders? What did it have to do with the Rwanda massacre and Cambodian massacre? What does it have to do with the human rights abuses committed in athiest China? What does it have it do with all the major drug related violence in Mexico, Brazil and everywhere? What did religion have to do with the global economic financial crisis? What did religion have to do with the creation and spread of aids, something that has destroyed lives of over 50 million people? (it is not religion that says we should go around and screw anyone and everyone in every which way possible! which is what is basically promoted by the typical secular athiest lifestyle, although now with the caution that they should first use a condom). Yes atrocities have been committed in the name of religion but the problems caused by it don't even come close to the scale of atrocities and evil committed by non-religious people. There are even conflicts which get blamed on religion but really behind it all is other causes like land or nationalism or politics or resources. I suggest you stop bringing your anti-religion views to what is a gaming site and instead go spend your time masturbating to some porn or drooling over some naked young girls in a lap dance bar, because after all life is short and you don't believe in an afterlife so why waste your time getting bogged down in religion debates when you should be making every second count and enjoying yourself.

Amir Sharar
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I think most of the issue lies with your ignorance, Christopher.



Especially with the Internet having so much information out there, that you can still remain ignorant of easily found facts.



It's not only disappointing but it's also surprising; your comments, based on misinformation, has me scratching my head because all it takes are Google searches for you to educate yourself.



Education is key.

Christopher Myburgh
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Adam, WW2 was very much a religious war. The Nazis were Catholics, Protestants and Lutherans who banded together to create a new violently anti-Semitic denomination of Christianity which they dubbed "Positive Christianity".



I don't see what "atheism" has to do with this debate (I certainly didn't bring it up, you have!) so I won't even respond to any of your bizarre comments on the nonsense subject. I will say this about communism though: It's arguable a "political religion". It may have nothing to do with deities, afterlives or other such superstitious nonsense, but just like religion it attempts to make claims of right, wrong and the ideal structure of society, all without any scientific basis.



I said religion was the greatest source of evil, but I certainly did not say it was the only one, and AIDS is by no means evil. HIV is a virus, viruses have no sense of morality. But religious groups such as the Catholics certainly do no good in halting its spread when they condemn the use of protection and contraceptives.



Amir is correct that education is key, so I strongly suggest that the 3 of you try it out sometime.

Yasser Jaffal
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Why should you care about a rating system that does not affect your region? Go pick your game and play it if you don't care about values, and let Muslims decide what is best for their countries.

However, I don't believe this will have an impact on sales or even what is being played, since 90% (if not more) of games played in middle east are pirated copies that are downloaded from internet. There are a lot of things more vital than computer games to spend money at.

Mohammad Mahmoud
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Better late than never, so here it goes:



First of all, thanks to Leigh Alexander for all the work she's doing at gamasutra, kotaku and elsewhere. I can only imagine that it isn't easy to keep on top of the news stream and clearly report on what is going on in the various corners of the game-dev industry. Thanks to everybody at Gamasutra for the good work.



However, I'm concerned about how the 2010 Dubai World Game Expo only got this single news article when this topic (Islamic game ratings) wasn't even that big in the over-all conversation at the Expo itself. In fact, the major topics of conversation were more along the lines of: Localization, Market Segmentation, Financing and (biggest by far) Payment Challenges + Solutions. Furthermore, I'm concerned with how this story's tone is (slightly) misleading.



First, the title implies consensus across the Middle East Game Industry on creating a common ratings system. It would be more accurate to say that an Iranian organization, the 'Iran National Foundation of Computer Games', has created a ratings system known as the 'Entertainment Software Rating Association' (ESRA) and wishes to popularize it amongst other Islamic nations. They explained the rationale behind the ratings system in a printed hand-out they gave to attendees of their particular session, this can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/44971717/ESRA-presented-at-the-Dubai-Wo
rld-Games-Expo-2010



Remember, one country does not represent the whole of the middle east. Also, the ratings system is no where near implemented across the whole of the middle east just yet. It is a voluntary system that would be adopted by a given country, with every country free to implement anything else.





Second, the opening paragraph makes it sound like the organizers of the Dubai World Game Expo had a hand in developing the new ratings system when they didn't---they do support the initiative though. (This second concern is nit-picky, I know, and can be attributed to preference in language usage). Another report that clarifies this point (but still can do with improvement) is here: http://www.ameinfo.com/250737.html



There were quite a few interesting topics of discussion throughout the expo that would have made insightful news stories about the actual concerns and achievements of game developers in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. Some of these are:



* Education: Prof. Basel Dayyani, an Associate Prof. at the American University in Dubai, talked about his efforts at CAST (Center for Applied Software Technology, of which he is the Director) to better prepare students to work in an interdisciplinary setting rather than just be proficient within their own domains. There was a good discussion about the role that a curriculum plays in meeting industry needs.



* Market Research: There was consensus that relevant market research for the MENA region is next to non-existent. However, General Manager David Ashford of AppsArabia did speak about an initiative his company would undertake this past Dec 2010 to begin answering some of the questions App developers have about the nature of the market they are catering to. (AppsArabia is also notable for a very interesting business model, you should check them out).



* Iranian Game Developers: As Game Developers in Iran are not allowed to legally license game engines due to trade restrictions, they have had to make-do with open source game engines. The results, while on the whole derivative, have a surprising polish/craftsmanship about them and incorporate elements of Iranian heritage that would be novel to most people.



* Payment Solutions: One of the biggest topics discussed at the expo by far. As Credit Cards are not all that common in the MENA region, especially with respect to a younger audience, there was heavy discussion about individual attempts/experiences and what are the available options. Paying by mobile phones turns out to be a good way to give money to the telco and not make any money yourself. A number of attendees spoke about having to hand over +50--60% of the money they charge their user to the telco, and having to wait months/a-long-time to actually receive the remaining amount from the telco. Another way to receive payments from users is by use of Scratch Cards. There is, as yet, no clear winner in the space at the MENA-level. Different games support different scratch cards, while cards are not uniformly distributed across the MENA region. The most viable contender appears to be a company called OneCard (Disclosure: I spent quite a bit of time with one of their representatives so I may have a skewed impression).





I do hope to see more stories about such topics come the 2011 Dubai World Game Expo.

Mohammad Mahmoud
profile image
Better late than never, so here it goes:



First of all, thanks to Leigh Alexander for all the work she's doing at gamasutra, kotaku and elsewhere. I can only imagine that it isn't easy to keep on top of the news stream and clearly report on what is going on in the various corners of the game-dev industry. Thanks to everybody at Gamasutra for the good work.



However, I'm concerned about how the 2010 Dubai World Game Expo only got this single news article when this topic (Islamic game ratings) wasn't even that big in the over-all conversation at the Expo itself. In fact, the major topics of conversation were more along the lines of: Localization, Market Segmentation, Financing and (biggest by far) Payment Challenges + Solutions. Furthermore, I'm concerned with how this story's tone is (slightly) misleading.



First, the title implies consensus across the Middle East Game Industry on creating a common ratings system. It would be more accurate to say that an Iranian organization, the 'Iran National Foundation of Computer Games', has created a ratings system known as the 'Entertainment Software Rating Association' (ESRA) and wishes to popularize it amongst other Islamic nations. They explained the rationale behind the ratings system in a printed hand-out they gave to attendees of their particular session, this can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/44971717/ESRA-presented-at-the-Dubai-Wo
rld-Games-Expo-2010



Remember, one country does not represent the whole of the middle east. Also, the ratings system is no where near implemented across the whole of the middle east just yet. It is a voluntary system that would be adopted by a given country, with every country free to implement anything else.



Second, the opening paragraph makes it sound like the organizers of the Dubai World Game Expo had a hand in developing the new ratings system when they didn't---they do support the initiative though. (This second concern is nit-picky, I know, and can be attributed to preference in language usage). Another report that clarifies this point (but still can do with improvement) is here: http://www.ameinfo.com/250737.html

Mohammad Mahmoud
profile image
Better late than never, so here it goes:



First of all, thanks to Leigh Alexander for all the work she's doing at gamasutra, kotaku and elsewhere. I can only imagine that it isn't easy to keep on top of the news stream and clearly report on what is going on in the various corners of the game-dev industry. Thanks to everybody at Gamasutra for the good work.



However, I'm concerned about how the 2010 Dubai World Game Expo only got this single news article when this topic (Islamic game ratings) wasn't even that big in the over-all conversation at the Expo itself. In fact, the major topics of conversation were more along the lines of: Localization, Market Segmentation, Financing and (biggest by far) Payment Challenges + Solutions. Furthermore, I'm concerned with how this story's tone is (slightly) misleading.



First, the title implies consensus across the Middle East Game Industry on creating a common ratings system. It would be more accurate to say that an Iranian organization, the 'Iran National Foundation of Computer Games', has created a ratings system known as the 'Entertainment Software Rating Association' (ESRA) and wishes to popularize it amongst other Islamic nations. They explained the rationale behind the ratings system in a printed hand-out they gave to attendees of their particular session, this can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/44971717/ESRA-presented-at-the-Dubai-Wo
rld-Games-Expo-2010



Remember, one country does not represent the whole of the middle east. Also, the ratings system is no where near implemented across the whole of the middle east just yet. It is a voluntary system that would be adopted by a given country, with every country free to implement anything else.



Second, the opening paragraph makes it sound like the organizers of the Dubai World Game Expo had a hand in developing the new ratings system when they didn't---they do support the initiative though. (This second concern is nit-picky, I know, and can be attributed to preference in language usage). Another report that clarifies this point (but still can do with improvement) is here: http://www.ameinfo.com/250737.html

Mohammad Mahmoud
profile image
Better late than never, so here it goes:



First of all, thanks to Leigh Alexander for all the work she's doing at gamasutra, kotaku and elsewhere. I can only imagine that it isn't easy to keep on top of the news stream and clearly report on what is going on in the various corners of the game-dev industry. Thanks to everybody at Gamasutra for the good work.



However, I'm concerned about how the 2010 Dubai World Game Expo only got this single news article when this topic (Islamic game ratings) wasn't even that big in the over-all conversation at the Expo itself. In fact, the major topics of conversation were more along the lines of: Localization, Market Segmentation, Financing and (biggest by far) Payment Challenges + Solutions. Furthermore, I'm concerned with how this story's tone is (slightly) misleading.



First, the title implies consensus across the Middle East Game Industry on creating a common ratings system. It would be more accurate to say that an Iranian organization, the 'Iran National Foundation of Computer Games', has created a ratings system known as the 'Entertainment Software Rating Association' (ESRA) and wishes to popularize it amongst other Islamic nations. They explained the rationale behind the ratings system in a printed hand-out they gave to attendees of their particular session, this can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/44971717/ESRA-presented-at-the-Dubai-Wo
rld-Games-Expo-2010



Remember, one country does not represent the whole of the middle east. Also, the ratings system is no where near implemented across the whole of the middle east just yet. It is a voluntary system that would be adopted by a given country, with every country free to implement anything else.

Mohammad Mahmoud
profile image
Second, the opening paragraph makes it sound like the organizers of the Dubai World Game Expo had a hand in developing the new ratings system when they didn't---they do support the initiative though. (This second concern is nit-picky, I know, and can be attributed to preference in language usage). Another report that clarifies this point (but still can do with improvement) is here: http://www.ameinfo.com/250737.html



EDIT: The article's opening paragraph has been changed in response to my comment. Thanks to Simon Carless for considering my point.

Mohammad Mahmoud
profile image
There were quite a few interesting topics of discussion throughout the expo that would have made insightful news stories about the actual concerns and achievements of game developers in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. Some of these are:



* Education: Prof. Basel Dayyani, an Associate Prof. at the American University in Dubai, talked about his efforts at CAST (Center for Applied Software Technology, of which he is the Director) to better prepare students to work in an interdisciplinary setting rather than just be proficient within their own domains. There was a good discussion about the role that a curriculum plays in meeting industry needs.



* Market Research: There was consensus that relevant market research for the MENA region is next to non-existent. However, General Manager David Ashford of AppsArabia did speak about an initiative his company would undertake this past Dec 2010 to begin answering some of the questions App developers have about the nature of the market they are catering to. (AppsArabia is also notable for a very interesting business model, you should check them out).



* Iranian Game Developers: As Game Developers in Iran are not allowed to legally license game engines due to trade restrictions, they have had to make-do with open source game engines. The results, while on the whole derivative, have a surprising polish/craftsmanship about them and incorporate elements of Iranian heritage that would be novel to most people.



* Payment Solutions: One of the biggest topics discussed at the expo by far. As Credit Cards are not all that common in the MENA region, especially with respect to a younger audience, there was heavy discussion about individual attempts/experiences and what are the available options. Paying by mobile phones turns out to be a good way to give money to the telco and not make any money yourself. A number of attendees spoke about having to hand over +50--60% of the money they charge their user to the telco, and having to wait months/a-long-time to actually receive the remaining amount from the telco. Another way to receive payments from users is by use of Scratch Cards. There is, as yet, no clear winner in the space at the MENA-level. Different games support different scratch cards, while cards are not uniformly distributed across the MENA region. The most viable contender appears to be a company called OneCard (Disclosure: I spent quite a bit of time with one of their representatives so I may have a skewed impression).



I do hope to see more stories around such topics come the 2011 Dubai World Game Expo.


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