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War-torn Developers: Creating Games from the Front Lines


July 25, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Egypt's New Future

A year and a half has past since Egyptians took to the streets to protest and oust long-ruling president Hosni Mubarak and his government. Though the country's Arab Spring wasn't nearly as bloody as Syria's or Libya's, hundreds of demonstrators were killed during its revolution, mostly in violent clashes with the police and pro-Mubarak forces.

Based in Egypt's second largest city Alexandria, developer Nezal Entertainment was right in the thick of those protests; many of its employees even joined the marches in Cairo's Tahrir Square that helped end Mubarak's 30-year-reign and bring significant reforms to the country's government.

Now that Egypt has a newly elected head of state, Nezal's Mohamed Sanad is confident that the country is entering a new era, and is excited about the growing game industry in the region.

He says several online/social game start-ups have opened since the revolution, and entrepreneurs haven't been afraid to back Egyptian tech companies. "We hope for a new future, so they've decided to invest here."

Sanad also says the studio has been eager to create a game about the events that changed its nation -- the team felt that making a game about anything else didn't seem right.

"The whole country had nothing to talk about but the revolution, what happened to the president, what is going on with the politics, and so on," he explains. "We saw it wasn't appropriate to start just a funny game or something like that right now. Maybe the market is not ready for that kind of thing."


Nezal's Crowds: Voices of Tahrir

So the company released Crowds: Voices of Tahrir, a rhythm title for social platforms. The game has players pushing a group of marching Egyptian citizens toward Tahrir Square as they wave flags and yell out the same chants that were heard during the actual protests. Along the way, they're met by obstacles like tear gas and baton-swinging security forces.

Many other game makers have had similar ideas -- just a couple of weeks ago, hundreds of developers gathered in Cairo, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to create over 40 projects around the theme of freedom at a region-wide game jam.

Because Nezal is living in a post-revolutionary state, Sanad says there isn't any fear of reprisal over the critical content in the studio's game -- a liberty not yet enjoyed by developers in Middle Eastern countries still in flux.

"We have a new government, a new president," says the developer. "The old regime is not here anymore. We do not have those concerns like we had [before]. Things are better now. We have more freedom, so it's okay."

That's not to say everything is perfect in Egypt now, as the country is still mired in a power struggle between the military and dominant political parties. For Sanad, who remembers the rampant corruption, police brutality, and censorship under Mubarak's decades-long rule, though, there's a lot to be optimistic about. "It can't be worse [than] before. Never."

Hope

There's also hope in the voices of the other game developers profiled here, despite the wars -- waged by gangs or armies -- playing out in their neighborhoods instead of just on their computer screens.

In El Salvador, where gang violence has been a fixture for two decades now, Sergio Rosa observes that the murder rate has fallen dramatically after a truce declared between the country's biggest gangs earlier this year. He's unsure how long that ceasefire will last, but even if it the violence ramps up again, he emphasizes that there's more to El Salvador than just its crime.

"I don't want people to think this is a horrible place, that I hate this place," says Rosa, before calling attention to the country's beautiful attractions, like its beaches and Mayan ruins. "We have good things, we have bad things, just like every other country in the world."

And though the fighting in Syria is now at its worst in months, Radwan Kasmiya anticipates that the country and others in the Middle East North Africa region could see a change similar to Egypt's.


Egyptians in Tahrir Square waving Syria's flag in solidarity (photo by Al Hussainy Mohamed)

"We've been living under several types of dictatorships and lack of free speech," says Kasmiya. "I think the new generations -- and I am glad to consider myself among them -- we are saying enough is enough. We are trying to build our future, our own future."

He continues, "With the Syrian revolution, now it's violent and bloody and you can see all this tragedy, but if the cost of this will create a new, free country, not only Syria, free countries in the Middle East, I think that's a price we have to pay."


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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