Inside the frosted glass doors of Afkar Media, located in Damascus's newly-built free-zone, software developers are trying to rebuild a civilization inside a video game.
Set to be released in September, "Al-Quraysh" is a strategy game that tells the story of the first 100 years of Islam's history from the viewpoint of four different nations - Bedouins, Arabs, Persians, and Romans.
One can choose to command any of the armies of the four nations or lead the army of the main character, Khaled Ibn Waleed, a Muslim warrior who defeated the Roman and Persian empires and never lost a battle. Or one can play the role of the Bedouin sheikh, who must earn the respect of his tribe. The player has the task of building and protecting trade routes and water sources, building armies, conducting battles, and freeing slaves.
It's just one of several new games produced in the Middle East with the idea that video games, like other media, play a role in shaping young minds and impacting self-esteem. The makers hope "Al- Quraysh," named after the prophet Muhammad's tribe, will help to correct the image of Islam, alleviate tensions with the West, and stoke pride among young Muslims.
"Al-Quraysh is going to help people in the West better understand the people who are living in the East," says Radwan Kasmiya, an avid gamer and the executive manager of Afkar Media. "We want to show that this civilization was a sort of practical and almost heavenly civilization."
The game also holds lessons for Muslims, says Mr. Kasmiya.
"I get very embarrassed by the way we are showing our civilization," says Kasmiya. "There were rational laws that were governing Muslims at that time. This allowed this civilization to last for a long time and to accept the other civilizations that they came in touch with. It was not a conservative or sectarian civilization. But people have stopped taking the ideas behind the laws, and are taking the laws themselves. They do not understand the essence of the laws."
Afkar Media has already produced two games, both dealing with the plight of the Palestinian people. One game released last year, "Under Siege," was born out of frustration with the prevalance of Arabs and Muslims portrayed as terrorists in Western video games. The creators of the game say the story line counteracts the biases in some Western games by showing the Palestinian struggle from an Arab vantage point and creating Arab and Muslim characters who are fighting in self-defense.
In the first scene of "Under Siege," Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli settler who killed 27 worshipers in a Hebron mosque in 1994, snickers as he sneaks up to the mosque where two boys, Maen and Ahmed, are among those praying inside. Goldstein enters the mosque and starts shooting into the prostrated crowd.
As chaos ensues, Ahmed must disarm Goldstein and turn to …