Games in the Google Play App Store let you play the Gaza conflict. Why do their developers create them?

A screenshot from Gaza Assault: Code Red, by Nir Yomtov
“Take control of an Israeli UAV equipped with powerful weapons in an attempt to secure the region!
“Terrorist cells are launching rockets into your country,
Do you have what it takes to protect your citizens?”

Videogames are obsessed with modern warfare. But a slew of titles available from the Google Play Store bring it uncomfortably up to the minute, letting gamers play the Gaza conflict while it’s still being bombarded.

The description above is from Gaza Assault: Code Red. Nir Yomtov, an Israeli living in Tel Aviv, developed the game after the start of the aerial bombardment of Gaza, but before the ground invasion. “Gaza Assault: Code Red brings you to the forefront of the middle-east conflict, in correlation to ongoing real world events,” the game’s description also says.

Speaking over the telephone, Yomtov said that he had no plans to take the game down, but did not intend to develop it further, and that he could see how it might fall “into a grey area”.

He defended his title:

“It’s nothing sinister, you shoot people who shoot you. It’s like every other game. I don’t want to offend anyone.”

I asked if how it could be appropriate to create a game simulating an aerial attack on an area where more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in real life.

“They are targeting civilians on our side,” Yomtov says. “It’s not an army fighting an army. It’s terrorists targeting civilians.”

“It’s nothing sinister, you shoot people who shoot you. It’s like every other game. I don’t want to offend anyone.”

Yomtov points out that “Code Red” is a translation of the Hebrew term “Tzeva Adom”, the name given to the sirens that sound in Israel when a rocket is launched from Gaza.

Another developer, Itsik Zizov, based in Haifa, is even more bullish. He put out the first version of Iron Dome — The Game after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. He told me in an email:

“We don’t see any problem with making a game such as Iron Dome because people in Israel live in terror every day and are afraid of Hamas while they are firing rockets into Israel, while they are using their citizens as human shields while they are hiding in tunnels instead of trying to make peace with Israel.”

Today, games can be created so quickly and cheaply that they inevitably become political responses and political statements. According to Yomtov, “Games are just another medium, like video. You can use it to make your voice heard.”

The voices of both sides can be heard too. Missile Pride (that’s a Google translation of لعبة صاروخ العزة, apologies if it’s not a good one) hopes to offer “objective support for the besieged Gaza Strip Heroes of oppressive occupier”. Its designer Dalal Abdullah, who said in an email that he lived in an Arabic country, but not Palestine, defended his game: “I do not see any problems in this work. This is the least that I can do [for] my people in my country.”

Screenshot for Missile Pride

For others, games are less a political statement than the diversion they traditionally offered. Stas Shaposhnik, the Netanya-based 27-year-old developer of Iron Dome Rocket Destroyer, says he sees “no moral problem with my game — on the contrary, I think the game might be a good escapism for our children.”

He wrote in an email: “With Israeli children taking cover and hiding from Hamas missiles day after day, I think the game might be a good distraction for them.

“Of course I won’t be making a game in which the player will have to bomb civilian targets. The game is all about defense and feeling safe.

“As an Israeli, I can honestly say that I feel sorry for any dead or injured civilians from both sides, Israeli and Palestinian.”

Screenshot from Iron Dome Rocket Destroyer, by Stas Shaposhnik

There will be a predictable and justified outrage that such games exist and are still available for purchase via Google Play.

But the experience of the monochrome UAV view of the world, human targets lit up white, is familiar to anyone who’s played Call of Duty.

Conflict and terrorism are the uneasy source material for much of modern gaming. When real wars overlap with virtual ones, in real time, we feel the unease even more keenly. And perhaps a bit more honestly.