Growing up in Iraq playing video games, I was mainly drawn to Eastern developed ones, even though I was not yet conscious of the differences between eastern and western developers. Perhaps it was Spacetoon TV’s influence – a pan–Arab free–to–air television channel which aired many Arabic dubbed eastern made animations – or maybe it was the games box art that sometimes used symbolism and had beautiful ornamentations and a rich visual language.
I enjoyed playing games like Legend of Mana, Saga Frontiers 2, Breath of Fire IV, Dragon Quest and many others. These games had an indescribable magical charm to me that I did not understand. I have always appreciated the way those worlds were built and presented, and I'm only now starting to understand why.
This genre of video games is called Eastern-RPG (role-playing games). Eastern-RPGs are typically made by Japanese developers but not exclusively. They are immensely story-driven as there is less focus on gameplay and more on the unravelling of events that lead the story.
Specifically the games I played all had a top-down perspective, and a non-linear or deep-linear open world gameplay, allowing the entire game world to be explored in an open-ended manner. Dragon quest’s franchise is an early example of non-linear open world gameplay. This top-down non-linear open world approach is something we can compare to the multi-centered perspective present in carpets. Similar to the carpet, this sub-genre of games saw no imitation of depth; everything in this virtual world is portrayed equally in a beautiful totality. These types of games see the environment as one in which the player is located; this is called “Third-person point of view”, rather than one wherein the player is facing the environment, which is called “First-person point of view”. This last one limits contextual information on the surroundings. Games that use a “Third person point of view” become spaces that surround us opposed to spaces that are in front of the player. It provides a sense of physical presence in the virtual environment through a visual embodiment (controlled character). These embodied representations help the players to contextualise aspects inside the game's virtual environment, giving the player a richer perception of the world. In a similar way, video games also function as heterotopias. Similar to carpets, they essentially create an entirely new universe inside the purview of the two-dimensional flat surface.
Video games are possibly a contemporary iteration of carpets. They share analogous technologies; weaving and computing. Some games share a distinct aesthetic similarity to the carpet as both rely on a grid/pixel system.
Just like with most digital media, video games have the potential to transgress borders and travel beyond rules and regulations. Certain game consoles didn’t make their way to Iraq until much later. When they did, for example, the Playstation 1’s were bootlegged systems which made it possible for anyone with access to the internet to download any game and burn it on CD’s. Markets in Bab Al Sharqi in the 2000’s flourished with self burned CD’s and it was up to the seller to choose which game they wanted to distribute. There was one seller I always begged my dad to take me to, because he would sell those niche japanese anime-esque video games, which were derived from the Eastern games earlier mentioned. Vendors rarely dared to stock those niche games because they were not as popular as products similar to FIFA and Tekken.
Since the 2000’s, the video game medium has further developed along with advanced technologies. With open source game engines like Unity and Godot, the possibility of self-publishing changed the whole industry. This and the multiplication of distribution and platforms (this being smartphones, PC’s, Mac os, and Linux) has opened up new ways to approach video games.
I decided to develop a video game interlaced with the Iraqi carpet. Each element present in the game is an animated translation derived from the carpet, from the characters you interact with to the environment presented. in translating it into an animation and having it function in the video game, I had to imagine the way this dancing figure would walk, sideways and up and down. What would this character’s back look like? How would its hands and legs move around? How fast would it move? These are questions I take into account when animating and coding the way it would interact with this digital carpet that is the game level.
I believe that storytelling in video games is an aspect that allows for a nuanced understanding of the intricacies present in southern Iraqi carpets. It is capable of conveying visual, oral, symbolic and textual information which can be appealing to young and mature audiences.
Hussein Shikha is a multidisciplinary graphic designer and researcher. His work entails experimental film, animation, textile and interactive installations. Hussein takes the manipulation and transformation of the southern Iraqi carpet (with all its philosophies) as a starting point to understand design from Eastern and non-Eastern perspectives. In so doing, he examines possible shifts towards more inclusive and less Eurocentric perceptions of design.