Video Game Press Event Goes Bad, Video Game Journalist Cries Racism

We have lots of fictional enemies in video games. The real scandal was the press event itself, not the fact that fake Arabs were the pretend bad guys.

I’m not a fan of video game press events. I vastly prefer the new-fangled remote preview events where you login from the comfort of your office or home, play a game and maybe chat with the devs, and then write the story—all without having to travel anywhere.

Others like these events. They like to mingle, catch up with colleagues, rub shoulders with devs and publishers and enjoy the perks—free food, drinks, maybe travel expenses and a hotel room.

Press events can be pretty straightforward or pretty wild depending. I’ve been invited to race racecars at a racecar track. I was offered a flight to England and a stay in Sherwood Forest. I’ve been offered travel to Japan and Iceland. I have declined—though I have attended closer press events where I’ve paid my way, gotten my own room and so forth. I don’t much care for all the time and effort and money that goes into these. I was offered to attend the upcoming Black Widow screening in LA or NYC. I opted for a digital screener instead. It sounds fun, sure, but it’s too much when you don’t live in LA or NYC.

Anyways, over at The Gamer, Eric Switzer writes about an event he attended recently for Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 in Southern California. The event, he and his fellow press and influencers discovered, was actually a mock anti-terrorism training workshop at a business called Strategic Operations. Nobody was told what they’d be doing beforehand.

Here’s Switzer:

The Strategic Operations facility looks a lot like a set you might see in American Sniper, Lone Survivor, or any other military propaganda film. The streets are paved with dirt; the broken down, abandoned vehicles are covered in grime; and the short, featureless huts look like they’re made out of mud. It’s the Middle-East as we’re often shown it via Western media - a gross, twisted doppelganger that doesn’t actually represent life in that part of the world at all. A series of nondescript yellow circles hang in one window, demonstrating that art does not exist in this society. A pile of rotten meat sits on a nearby table next to a decaying pig head, because the people here eat filth, apparently. I think I’ve painted a clear enough picture.

There’s a flag that says “Trump 2024: The Revenge Tour” flying on the main building, which almost makes me get back on the bus. It’s a pretty hostile message to send to everyone who uses this facility, military and civilian alike. Between that and being told that no one here will be wearing masks, I have my guard up immediately.

What followed involved actors dressed up as Arab insurgents/terrorists and mock gunfights. The actual exercises—I have to admit—sound kind of fun. But Switzer is bothered that he’s pitted against Arabs/Muslims and finds the whole thing tasteless at best.

As we run drills, no one refers to the people we’re learning to kill as Muslim, Middle Eastern, or Arab. Any time the instructors refer to them, they say enemies, bad guys, or the other guys. Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that “the bad guys” are most certainly Arabs here. At the end of the day, we run a combat scenario where we trade fire with role-players dressed in white robes and keffiyehs. The actors are all white, I think, and I can’t decide what’s worse: white people dressing up like Arabs to be shot at, or subjecting actual Arab people to this experience.

Long story short, the event went over well with some of the attendees and not so well with others. Weirdly, it took place after the game was already released. The devs—who are Polish—weren’t even in attendance.

So two things:

First, the event sounds like a disaster. Personally, I think it could be a fun thing to do but how it’s at all relevant to journalists or YouTubers/streamers is beyond me. Why not spend that time playing the game? Isn’t this a video game press event? But also, and this is important, why keep it a secret? This is the kind of event that could really trigger someone with PTSD. Imagine one of these attendees is a veteran or something and this triggers some bad memories. Whatever the case, if you’re billing this as a video game preview event you should probably inform any attendees that it also involves shooting guns at people in real life—even when it’s not live fire. Common courtesy, right?

Second, I don’t understand why this article didn’t spend time discussing how crappy this was to spring on them—almost an ambush, really—and instead focused on the fact that they were shooting at Arabs. The headline reads: The Sniper Ghost Warrior Press Event Made Me Pretend To Kill Arabs And I Hated It.

I don’t know who wrote the headline, but it clearly focuses on killing Arabs and how that act makes the author uncomfortable specifically. But would it be just fine and dandy if he was pretend killing other racial groups? Vietnamese maybe? European? Why is this about race in the first place when really it’s about how terrible this press event was regardless. It was a bad idea but not because it was racist. If you’re uncomfortable shooting at pretend Arabs but not at pretend white dudes . . . why?

There’s nothing wrong with having Arab bad guys in video games. Sometimes Arabs are bad guys. Sometimes Nazis are bad guys. Some games have Americans as bad guys! There’s this weird impression that somehow Arabs are the main bad guy in video games these days that’s just patently untrue. Nor do I believe that gamers will play a game with Arab enemies and suddenly become horrible anti-Arab racists or anti-Muslim bigots. Gamers, by and large, are accustomed to all kinds of bad guys from mobsters to men-at-arms to little green men with laser guns. Arabs, Russians, Germans, Japanese, gangsters, cops, wildlife, cowboys and Indians, robots, zombies, banditos, giants, goblins, very small rocks, plants, ghosts, goombas, Canadians—you name it, it’s a bad guy in a video game. Anyone who takes it seriously, takes it personally, plays Call of Duty and thinks “Now I hate Russians!” is an idiot and I have yet to meet someone so dense.

The event should have been explained beforehand. That’s the scandal. Video game press events are stupid in general and journalists should stop going to them. That’s my hot take and I’m sticking to it.

I also made a video hashing out my thoughts on all of this:

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