14-year-old living in Haifa, Israel, sits by a laptop working all
night with a 22-year-old Lebanese engineering student in an intense
quest to kill a boss on the World of Warcraft. Over the course of
many hours, together, the two unlikely teammates kill a number of
creatures and gather various resources.
Meanwhile on Second
Life, a 21-year-old Jewish legal aid in Manhattan spends his boring
day at work building a synagogue in the virtual world. Already
evening in Riyadh, a 29-year-old Saudi air hostess who believes most
Jews have horns and sacrifice babies in their places of worship,
enters the legal aid's synagogue and starts asking
Academics, gaming experts and conflict resolution
advocates say such interactions are taking place on a variety of
platforms daily, making online gaming an increasingly common avenue
for Middle Easterners, Muslims and Jews all over the world, to engage
with and learn about one another.
"I believe that the
Internet and gaming, especially those with social media components,
can bring people together," Esra'a Al Shafei, Director of the
Bahrain-based MidEast Youth, an international student media group
that promotes dialogue and understanding, told The Media Line. "I
grew up in a relatively closed society, but there are no boundaries
on the Internet like there are in real life, making it much easier to
cross cultural and political boundaries and to create meaningful
"For example, once I was in college
and played a little game on Facebook and met an Armenian whom I never
would have met," she remembered. "I know many people
personally who have gotten to know each other across cultural lines
the glass is half full and half empty," Dr Kampf warned. "The
half full is that indeed you can see unintentional interactions
between Jews and Muslims and Israelis and Palestinians. The half
empty, however, is that if you look at these interaction[s] over the
long term, their extent [does] not grow."
is all about skills, and not identity or nationality," Shafei
said. "Your intention may not be to meet people, but a lot of
gaming sites now have teams. So you might end up playing on a team
with an Iranian, an Israeli or an American Jew. Almost every game
these days allows you to chat and connect with people, so you say
'hey, where are you from? I'm from Bahrain,' get to know that person
and find out that you actually have lots of similar interests in
music and things like that."
While it was not her
intention, Shafei articulated the hope of a growing number of
Israeli gaming firms and social media analysts who believe games can
bring unlikely people together across borders.
communicate better through games because there are no borders,”
said Nir Orpaz, the founder and Chief Technical Officer of Skiller,
an Israel-based gaming company that provides both gaming and social
networking platforms for mobile phones. "We can play with people
in Arab countries whereas on a day-to-day basis we wouldn’t do
Users of Skiller mobile games are identified by the
country they are located in with a small flag next to their username.
With around half a million users from 125 nations, including
countries without diplomatic relations with one another, Orpaz says
mobile gaming has provided a place for people to leave politics at
"In the gaming world, people put the political
conflicts aside," he told The Media Line. "It’s easier to
play against a person than to win a political argument against
"We’re combining social networks with games,"
Orpaz added. "We have many social elements such as [the] buddy
list, [the] messaging system and in-game chat, that enable people to
communicate easily and form friendships. This [is] what makes our
product so unique. This is not just a mobile game; this is a real
But Paul Parush, an expert in media culture and
a communications professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
said the effectiveness of online gaming in crossing conflict lines
was likely limited by awareness.
"For Arabs playing
against Israel, they probably know what the Israeli flag looks like,
whereas Israelis probably don't know what a Saudi flag looks like,"
he told The Media Line. "So it's worth noting different levels
Dr Ronit Kampf, a professor of
communications and political science at Tel Aviv University and an
expert in the role of online environments in conflict resolution,
says the import of online environments in conflict resolution largely
revolves around whether or not the interaction is
"There are many online environments that are
not specifically aimed at conflict resolution or learning about the
other," she told The Media Line. "These platforms provide
people with the option to cross boundaries easily."
reality is that we are attracted to people who are similar, not
people who are different," she continued. "So there are
definitely unintentional interactions taking place, and it's better
than nothing, but you can't ignore the fact that their extent and
their depth is not what we would ideally want."
Kampf argued that gaming, particularly gaming that requires teamwork,
has a greater potential to cross conflict lines.
is incredible potential for unintentional interaction through
gaming," she said. "In the World of Warcraft, for example,
gamers across the Middle East fight together against some environment
that is attacking them. What's important to them is not whether the
person is a Muslim or a Jew, but their skill playing the game.
you see people joining together to fight on the same team and see
each other as individuals," Dr Kampf concluded. "It
indicates that the moment you bring together young people from across
the divide to join forces and collaborate on a specific goal – be
it to win a game together or do a project together – they are much
more effectively able to put aside tension and stereotypes and
develop positive attitudes towards one another."
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