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Saudi Arabia: Electronic Games – The Good, the Bad, and the Overlooked

The newly-founded Saudi Information Technology Club, a non-profit organization established by young, Saudi IT enthusiasts and situated in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom between the cities of Dammam and Khobar, held a unique initiative which targeted the largely-overlooked subject of the effects of electronic gaming on youth.

The event was woven around a presentation by Engineer Yasser M. Bahjat, World Cyber Games board member and Electronic Sports World Cup supervisor in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia [link], titled “Electronic Games: The New Media Outlet.” Bahjat is responsible for phenomenon such as Badr Hakeem, who won the ESWC in 2005 playing in the Pro Evolution Soccer division, and was in the headlines in 2006, and for getting Saudi Arabia to the second round of the ESWC in both 2004 and 2007.

The presentation was aimed at parents to educate them about the potential harms and benefits of electronic games and the guidelines to safe gaming. He also addressed the possibility of developing electronic games in the region. “Electronic games are not toys; we need to understand this first. And don't criticize or approve of an electronic game right away; try it, read about it, and listen to what gaming communities are saying about it, online and offline. That's the only way you can determine if a game is suitable for your son or daughter,” said Bahjat.

In addition, Bahjat mentioned that the average age of individuals who play video games at least four hours a week in the United States is 34 years. He also cited an interesting study that was conducted in New York in which surgeons “who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37% fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27% faster than their counterparts who did not play video games.” Following the presentation, Bahjat answered some questions and concerns that the audience had, which was made up of both male and female attendees, regarding the topic.

The presentation was held at the Center for the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Program for Youth Development at 6:00pm [GMT+3] and was broadcasted live on Yahoo! Live by fellow Saudi blogger and Saudi IT Club member, Saleh Al-Zaid. It was also followed by an inspirational speech given by Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, a Saudi MIT graduate student, titled “The World Awaits You.”

In Saudi Arabia, video games receive the majority of the blame for the spread of obesity among Saudi youth, coming close-second only to cartoons when it comes to children [link]. Electronic games have also gained the attention of Saudi authorities for many other reasons; this article in Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat talks about a Saudi campaign against violent video games (especially one which illustrates a fight between the United States and Al-Qaeda). The name of the video game in question was not disclosed but is most likely Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Electronic games in the Saudi market are worth about 187 million dollars, which represents 30% of the Saudi retail market [link]. The Saudi game market receives about 3 million video games annually; only 10,000 of those games are original copies and the rest is pirated. Other numbers were also included in the previously-linked article; the average Saudi youth spends about $400 on video games annually and over 60% of Saudi households have at least one gaming console.

Electronic games were also the target of a recent Saudi study conducted among participants in a juvenile detention center in the Saudi capital of Riyadh [link]. The study showed that “90% of the juveniles were affected negatively by video games and sought to imitate these games in reality.”

Keyword here should be moderation, which is a something that is very unlikely to come about at such a young age as that of gamers in the Kingdom. For that reason, the electronic gaming division in the Saudi IT Club was created; for the aforesaid reason and for Saudi youngsters to be introduced to moderate and safe gaming by other Saudi youngsters.

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