OE Watch Commentary: First-person combat video games have emerged as a cheap way for militaries and armed groups across the globe to recruit, train and indoctrinate. Recently, Lebanese Hezbollah’s “Electronic Media Division” released a first-person shooter game set in contemporary Syria and called “Holy Defense: Protecting the Nation and Holy Sites.” The game’s character, named Ahmed, moves through increasingly difficult levels by completing missions based on actual events in Syria. The game begins at the Sayyida Zaynab shrine, the defense of which has become a rallying cry for Iranian-backed militias in Syria. After fending off ISIS attackers and neutralizing their mortar fire in the Damascus suburbs, Ahmed goes to Qusayr, the site of Hezbollah’s first overt action in the Syrian conflict, where he and his comrades are tasked with rescuing hostages and then taking full control of the town. The game’s final two levels consist of hunting down an ISIS suspect and expelling jihadist groups from the Syrian-Lebanese border.
The game was released at a ceremony held in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Speaking at the ceremony, Lebanese Minister of Youth and Sports Mohammed Fneish, a Hezbollah party member, noted the “soft power” value of the enterprise, which employs “electronic media and entertainment” to spread the culture of “The Resistance” (al-Muqawama), as Hezbollah often refers to itself. Fneish emphasized “the importance of innovative methods,” with video games held up as a prime example.
“Holy Defense” is not the first game to be released by Hezbollah’s media center, though it is the first in which Israelis are not the enemy. Nor is it the first video game set in the Syrian conflict: Slightly over a year ago, a Russian video game company released a “Real-Time Tactics” game (in which players control squads or units rather than an individual) titled “Syrian Warfare.” Video games have insinuated themselves into the conflict in other ways too: ISIS propaganda videos are said to echo the aesthetics of the first-person shooter game “Call of Duty,” and in 2014 ISIS supporters created a user-modified version of the popular first-person shooter video game Arma 3. This is the same game, incidentally, from which Russian military officials used a snippet to allege evidence of US support for ISIS. End OE Watch Commentary (Winter)