When Palestinian Girls Make Video Games

The Game Girl Workshop uses video game development to teach and inspire young women in the West Bank.

Kill Screen has posted a fascinating yet far too short piece about a group of Palestinian girls who made video games under the tutelage of two Danish developers.

In June and July of this year, the Game Girl Workshop began programs in Anabta, Balata, and Nablus. Erönde stressed that the goal of these workshops was to “demystify” the logic behind game-making. In Balata (Palestine’s largest refugee camp), the women in the workshop knew very little about graphics and audio composition. Using coding-light software like Reason Essentials and Game Maker, the workshop was designed to set the foundation of game-making without intimidating the students.

The games that resulted are expressions of daily life in the Occupied Territories. In Fishman, the player starts on the right and moves left, the opposite of Mario and the direction in which Arabic is read. In GM 3, a young boy attempts to collect pocket watches, as an elderly man tries to grab him. The player has to collect time in order to prolong his youth. In Flower Garden, the player has to gather crops before insects can devour them. The games returned again and again to themes of decay and loss.

Wired UK has a more in-depth piece on the workshop and its goals, the West Bank’s technological growth, and how that affects its relationship with Israel. I love this quote from Rasha Salaheddin, who ran the workshop:

I think this issue is not only about Palestine, but it’s more obvious in Arab countries because the culture is a man’s society… Boys already have so many things to do; they have freedom in their lives. So what we have a responsibility to do is make girls have these same things.

Girls have the ability, and we too are smart and can do many things, but we need to have that mentality now so [future generations] can grow up with it. Our culture and how we live doesn’t focus on these things — girls become teachers and they are too far from things like programming. So they think it’s a man’s field. But there’s nothing between men and women, no difference; we are all human and have a mind. It’s about how we rise and grow up, and the culture around us.

In the wonderful documentary Born Into Brothels, filmmaker Zana Briski gives cameras to the children of Calcutta prostitutes. The cameras give the children an opportunity to chronicle their lives and express themselves, and it turns out to be a very empowering and life-changing experience for them. I can’t help but wonder if video games might serve a similar function for those Palestinian girls, who face many limitations because of their gender and nationality.

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