Video games are often mocked for the crude way that they draw 'other' people, meaning foreign people, as merely shells, appropriated for our entertainment.
Bomb Gaza is a horrible example, showing the people of Gaza not merely as cannon fodder, but as jokey little cartoons. They wait on the roofs of their homes, for the bombs to come, for their homes to be destroyed, for their lives to be taken.
The Android game was pulled from Google Play, following complaints on social media. The characters in the game, the targets, are either black-clad villains who are there to be killed. Or they are white-clad civilians, including children, whose deaths will fill up a rage-meter, signifying international outrage at the war. There is no way to play the game without killing civilians.
Bomb Gaza is a cynical and stupid depiction of the war. It is an idiotic attempt to celebrate the suffering of thousands of people. Even while children lay dying, even while relatives of soldiers grieved, its makers were figuring out how to create mindless entertainment from their pain.
After news of Google's decision broke earlier today, I contacted the outfit that makes this game, which has previously created a piano simulation and a retro shooter. It's called PlayFTW. An online email link sent me to a person called Roman Shapiro.
In an email reply, he refused to be interviewed on the phone. He refused to answer my straightforward email questions, saying they were "pro-muslim." (They weren't.)
When I pressed him to make any kind of statement he wished, he replied, "fine.\this game is a joke, made in 2 hours, not one dollar made, stupid game got it publicity from haters. thanks haters !!!! am israel hay!"
Games can be powerful tools for making a political point, and for creating empathy. In the past year, I played Papers, Please and learned about how it might feel to work for a repressive regime. I played government simulation Democracy 3 and learned about the "hard choices" politicians are forever talking about. I have written about smart games that tackle issues like slavery and cultural marginalization.
But this game is not seeking to create empathy. It portrays the opposite. It represents the extreme and fixed views of people who cannot ascribe human motivations to people who do not share their world view. It represents the shameful way the humans (Palestinians and Israelis) who are living through this nightmare are depicted by certain section of the news media, and by the partisan loudmouths who infest social media.
In a viciously accurate way, it depicts the ridiculously hardened nature of so many conversations about Israel and Palestine, in which the players are depicted as cartoonish stereotypes designed to bolster a particular world-view. Bomb Gaza is a shameful reflection of too many reactions to this awful conflict.