Below Their Playful Surface, Games Can be a Unifying Force

Eslah Saleh
The right to play is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for good reason: playing is vital to the development of children’s social skills, their capacity for discovery, and problem solving. But the boom in the game industry clearly shows that the appeal of playing reaches beyond the domain of children. Both real and virtual games can instil values of cooperation, coexistence, and respect for civil society among adults.
Arabia Felix - العربية السعيدة

Doaa Abdul Rahman, 27, works at a clothing shop in Aden. She recalls a childhood playtime filled with marbles, hopscotch, and a circle game called “open rose,” in which children hold hands and sing as they step forward and back to mimic the opening and closing of a flower. 

 “Those games were really our first teachers,” Abdul Rahman said. “The open-rose game taught us to live in harmony and be more loving toward one another.”

The presence of games in society dates to ancient times. Ethan Mollick, an associate professor who teaches innovation and entrepreneurship at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, points to graffiti on Egyptian pyramids that suggests labourers turned their work into a form of play, offering rewards to those who carried the most stones on competing teams. 

Besides entertainment, games offer a means to sharpen children’s thinking, said Tamani Ali Seif, a sociology professor at the University of Aden. 

“Games develop children’s perception, help them focus their minds, and contribute to social integration,” she said. Play advances values of cooperation, honest competition and respect for rules and laws, she added, which helps prepare youngsters to navigate society in a positive and balanced way. 

Play advances values of cooperation, honest competition and respect for rules and laws.”

The internet has enabled millions of players around the world to engage in games with one another. The virtual playing field can level differences in age, language, and ethnic background. A study published in 2021 by the Royal Soci-ety Open Science suggests that playing video games can have a positive effect on one’s mental health, despite the risk of addiction and isolation. Like their real-life counterparts, many online games help enhance decision-making skills through interaction with other players, the upholding of social values, and respect for diversity. 

Fostering coexistence in Yemeni society through the development of virtual games is the core of Abrar Basuhai’s work as an artist and game designer. She had a hand in several Arabia Felix games such as Arwa’s World, Republic of Sheba, Tuba and Paper Shelter. 

“We form a team of designers, writers, developers, and consultants,” said Basuhai, 27, describing the first step of the creative process. “Then we hold a workshop to brainstorm ideas for a game.” 

Once an initial concept emerges, the design and drawing phase begins. The team then produces a logo, icons, and characters. 

Cooperation is key to developing any video game, Basuhai added.

“When we draw characters, we make sure gender, ethnicity, and cultural diversity throughout Yemen are represented,” she said. “This is how we convey that differences in skin colour, accent, or traditional dress need never be cause for division. Diversity is a beautiful source of inspiration.”

After the game is developed, several consultants try it out and provide feedback, which is useful for making improvements. The process can take months before the game is ready to share online. 

Doaa Abdul Rahman looks back fondly on the games she played in childhood. 

“They make me nostalgic for the beautiful past that I wish would return,” she said. But she also harbours hope that the power of games can strengthen the spirit of community and nationhood in Yemen today.

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