4 hours ago

Axios Gaming

Hello and welcome to an all-Megan edition of Axios Gaming. Let's get started.

Today's edition is 1,202 words, a 5-minute read.

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1 big thing: Middle East crash course gone very wrong

Image: Eric Switzer

A recent crash course in “extreme military counter-terrorism training” as part of a promotional event for a video game is sparking conversation about how the industry dehumanizes and glorifies violence against Middle Easterners.

Why it matters: The game industry's depiction of characters of Middle Eastern descent is one-sided, often portraying them as terrorists and faceless enemy fodder.

Driving the news: TheGamer's Eric Switzer wrote about how he and a mix of writers and YouTubers attended an event for "Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2."

  • Switzer describes the facility, which flies a "Trump 2024: The Revenge Tour" flag on its main building, as depicting "the Middle-East as we’re often shown it via Western media — a gross, twisted doppelganger that doesn't actually represent life in that part of the world at all."
  • Decorations included a pile of rotting meat set up next to a decaying pig head.

At the end of the event, Switzer and the others ran through a combat scenario against actors dressed in white robes and keffiyehs.

  • They were then asked to pose for a photo "in a row facing the role-players with their fists raised in anger, while the role-players are instructed to put their hands in the air and ululate like a jihadist."

Switzer told Axios that ultimately he decided to write about the June 5 event because he felt he had "been tricked into thinking it was normal because everyone around me was acting like it was normal."

  • "We can't continue to foster anti-Islamic attitudes in this country, or in video games," he said.

What they're saying: Developer CI Games issued an apology on Twitter, claiming it intended to "replicate how real US Navy Seals train, featuring standard military procedures and techniques" and give press "a real-life taste of what it would be like to be Raven," the game's main character.

  • "We had asked the events company to change the outfits of the enemies in order to match those that are represented in the game, which are specifically designed to avoid any direct or indirect cultural representations," the developer said.
  • "We were informed that in order to preserve the authenticity of their training event, this request was declined."
2. The ripple effect

Prolific developer Rami Ismail, an outspoken advocate on topics like representation, told Axios that events like "Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2" speak to "the incredible normalcy of demonizing Arabs and Muslims in Western media and popular culture."

  • "Our cultures and lands are often just playgrounds for destruction and vehicles for Western heroism in media, and it affects the real-life sympathy and empathy people in the most powerful countries on Earth can feel towards the never-ending destruction real-life conflict wreaks on us," Ismail said.
  • "It's genuinely scary to think that it is so normal to shoot people that look like me that it is both a common game trope and a theme park attraction you can apparently pay your PR company for, to be honest."

Flashback: Developers of games like "Six Days in Fallujah," a shooter set during the Iraq War in 2004, have danced around how their their games portray violence against non-American citizens.

  • Developer Highwire games initially said that its game — which was dropped by publisher Konami in 2009 after widespread backlash — "was not trying to make a political commentary," before admitting politics were "inseparable" from its story.
  • In a report from IGN's Rebekah Valentine, developers and figures across the game industry criticized games’ handling of Arabs. "Post-9/11, it became really clear to me that there was a trend of dehumanizing Arabs in media," one developer said. "You never actually realize it's you that they mean because they're such ridiculous caricatures that look nothing like you."
  • Reflecting on both "Six Days in Fallujah" and CI's recent debacle, Ismail said that "the way media portrays Arabs and Muslims exactly the way this event did is a large part of why we see it as 'normal' and 'just the way things are' — instead of what it is: an atrocity against innocent people, families, and children."
3. "Halo Infinite" devs commit to holiday release

Image: 343 Industries

343 Industries' "Halo Infinite" is still on track for a release this holiday, according to Xbox big boss Phil Spencer.

Why it matters: "Halo Infinite" is one of several games that have been delayed due to the pandemic. During an appearance on the Dropped Frames podcast, Spencer said that 343 Industries is "very committed to holiday" for the game's release this year.

  • "For us, we know kind of our range in the three-to-four-week range," Spencer said. While a release date hasn't been decided, he added that they'll "have better clarity over the summer, but this isn't a months things, this is down to a few weeks."

Noteworthy: On the podcast, Spencer also teased interest in a new "Killer Instinct," adding that "there are so many good games in our catalog that we’d love to visit."

  • "I will just say, [Xbox Game Studios head] Matt [Booty] and I have discussed "Killer Instinct" many times and where we would like to go ... It's about finding the right team and the right opportunity, but it is not due to any kind of lack of desire on our part that we're not doing more with "Killer Instinct" because we love the franchise and the community response.”
4. Fan-made Morrowind remake marches on

Image: TESRSkywindOfficial

Fans are still working on a mod called "Skywind" that merges "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" engine with "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind."

Why it matters: The team's dedication to sharing the development process is a unique look into how fan-made games get made.

  • The development of "Skywind" has stretched roughly a decade now, with no end in sight. The game's last development diary was released in January 2020.
  • In its sixth and latest update, developers say that they've completed over 100 dungeons and share a look at essential concept art, which is now nearly all complete. "This is a huge milestone for the project, as all necessary game assets can be properly modeled using these references," says the video's narrator.
  • However, the team is still seeking experienced developers and artists to complete the project.

What's next: A lot more work. There's still no end in sight for the massive undertaking.

5. Need to know

Image: Konami

Now for some quick news.

  • Konami stealth dropped a demo for what appears to be soccer game "PES 2022," though you won't find it under that title. "New Football Game Online Performance Test" will be available for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One until July 8.
  • Konami also announced a new "competitive mystery game" today called "CrimeSight."
  • "Call of Duty Mobile" developer and Tencent subsidiary TiMi and has a AAA shooter in the works out of a new office in Seattle.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog is now a Vtuber (a virtual YouTube star), as per the rules of his 30th birthday dictate.
6. Worthy of your attention

🎊 "Stardew Valley" speedrunners are racing to get married. (Ari Notis, Kotaku)

🥷 How "Ninja Warrior" went from G4TV phenomenon to being a part of American culture. (Mat Elring, GameSpot)

What accessible gaming tournaments could mean for players with disabilities. (William Nelson, GamesIndustry)

7. Baba Is innocent of this crime

The point of puzzle game "Baba Is You" is to bend the rules of each level to your needs, which doesn't sound all that different than most American court cases. I'd play it.

Screenshot: @pyrofoux (Twitter)

Got a tip? A story you want us to cover? Email us at megan.farokhmanesh@axios.com or stephen.totilo@axios.com.

🐦 Find us on Twitter: @megan_nicolett / @stephentotilo

Trivia: 90% of horny content I try to put in this newsletter is fervently edited out by my exasperated boss.