This is Article contains a fragment of James Batchelor’s “Standing ovation for Palestinian dev at #1ReasonToBe” for GamesIndustry.biz To read the full article clic on the link!
#1ReasonToBe started as a Twitter hashtag under which women would tweet their reasons for being in the industry, often in the face of abuse and cynicism via social media. This was explored further in an annual GDC session that has become a symbol for anyone who celebrates and calls for greater diversity.
You can watch the full session here: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1024233/
This year, Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail decided to focus on geographical diversity: developers around the world who come from a culture or circumstances that few from larger markets can fully understand or appreciate.
The most standout example from this year’s session was Rasheed Abu-Eideh, believed to be the first GDC speaker from Palestine. Abueideh opened his talk by describing how his country is not recognised by much of the world, and does not even exist on Google Maps. As such, the full extent of its suffering also often goes unrecognised.
“Palestine has been suffering from occupation for 69 years,” he said, before showing how different life is in his country to the activities that often crop up in video games. Perhaps the most stark example was a collection of photos showing Palestinians passing through caged checkpoints, with Abueideh adding: “Here, we’re playing Papers Please – but they don’t say please.”
He then moved on to the difficulties of making games for his people: “Since we are an unrecognised country, we cannot sell our games [through online stores] because they cannot transfer money to banks in Palestine. PayPal is not working at this time, and we do not have access to 3G networks because we don’t have permission to use those frequencies. It’s not easy for us to travel. It’s expensive. Being Muslim and Palestinian also does not help. Also, no one comes to Palestine so we are isolated.”
Because of these reasons and more, Abueideh was forced to shut down the games division of his company in 2013. Despite not being able to make a living developing games, he was still compelled to do so. When war hit Gaza again, the number of people killed – especially children – was huge. As the father of three kids, Abueideh felt he had to do something. He began to make a game about this suffering, hoping to share his experience.
“I believe games are the best medium to share feelings and experiences,” he said. “And in this way, I could convince people to work with me for free if they believed what I believe. And I succeeded in that, so we started making Liyla and the Shadows of War.”
You may well be familiar with this title. Released through the App Store, Apple refused to classify it as a game because of its political statement and depiction of actual events, instead believing it should be in the News category. “Can you imagine that?” Abueideh asked the audience. “Being rejected for talking about the suffering of your people?”
Thanks to the “amazing” games community, support from developers all over the world flooded in and the game was back on the App Store and its proper category just three days later, prompting plenty of downloads and positive comments – albeit with three comments claiming the game was made by ISIS. “By the way, I’m not ISIS,” Abueideh chuckled.
But even this wasn’t the biggest challenge the Palestinian developer faced while making this game. After the incident with the App Store, a local TV station invited Abueideh to be interviewed. Afterwards, his family expressed fears that he would be thrown in jail.
“There are so many people in jail for speaking out about the injustice in Palestine,” he said. “My wife was scared, but she helped me and supported me. One of the team who worked with me asked me not to mention his name in the game’s credits because of the risk.
“I had to work on this game for two years as if it were a secret mission. No one knew about it except my wife and the team, because I was afraid if someone learned about it I would be in jail before it was published. Can you imagine that? Making games could put you in jail?
“But I’m not in jail – yet. I’m here with you. I’m honoured to be here, glad to be here, but I’m not happy. My number one reason to be is that I’m crazy enough to think that I can open your eyes and raise awareness by making games and maybe, just maybe we can protect the kids from being in a war again. Because war is not far from any one of us.”
His speech prompted a standing ovation from the entire audience.
Abueideh was not the only inspiring story, of course: there were also Brigitta Rena (who helped form Indonesian developer Mojiken Studio); Polish developer and Gspot Studio CEO Marta Ziolkowska; and Madiba Olivier, who is thought to be the first ever GDC speaker from the African nation of Cameroon.
Just prior to Abueideh, Argentinian games exec Martina Santoro took to the stage. A political school drop-out, she has risen to become co-founder of Buenos Aires’ Okam Studio, the first female president of local games trade body ADVA, the editor-in-chief of InsideGamesLatam.biz, and director of the animation programme at the Universidad del Cine – not a bad resumé for someone who, by her own admission, doesn’t make games.
She praised the industry for being so welcoming, saying that for every person that wronged her, for every troll she encountered via social media, she has met hundreds of “kind and amazing” people. And she has worked hard to help encourage and nurture more creative people throughout her nation. “I like to think I’m a catalyst,” she said. “I never achieve anything in my life without help, and that works the other way around – there are definitely things that wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t around. [The teams I work with] are my reason to be. I’m not alone. I never will be, and neither should you.
“If I, from Argentina, the end of the world, can find all these amazing people and do all these amazing things, then what are you waiting for?”
Finally, Brazilian independent developer Thais Weiller spoke about how games led her to an important moment of self-discovery. Working in games since 2010, she spoke about wondering why no one was making games about the “crappy moments in life,” like break ups, awful bosses, and experiences with serious health conditions. “It’s very hard to face your demons,” she warned. “It’s very hard to look inside and see all the dark shit that is lurking there. I have a bit of personal history with this.”
In 2016, she decided to make a game about the numbness she felt inside. She hated what she was doing at her job, so she worked on a project in her spare time that explored social anxiety. That project was Rainy Day, and when she released it six months later the press started calling it a depression simulator.
“I had to face it: perhaps what I had felt for the past 20 years, that numbness inside me was actually depression,” she said. “I actually went to a psychologist after that, and now I know a little more about myself – thanks to a game. My one reason to be is to help all of you here. Make the games you want to make, make the games that matter to you, the games you would like to play or would like other people to play. Not only are you going to help other people who feel like you to see that they’re not the only ones who feel like that, but also you might discover something new about yourself. It may even improve your quality of life. I’m really proud to be able to share my story and the stage with such amazing people in front of so many of my peers. But life goes on and so does everything else. Keep pouring your heart in your art! I hope you can create a better world for you and everyone else”.
Vlambeer‘s Rami Ismail concluded the session by encouraging other developers to share their reasons to be and their stories via the hashtag.
The Session Ranking within Advocacy Track ranked 1 of 21 and the Session Ranking within Game Developers Conference 2017 ranked 8 of 421!