"Colour-picking at a distance"
Adrian Lahoud wrote in ‘Fallen Cities’ how ‘geometric tiling’ and ‘pointed arches’ are ‘deployed to signify Arabness’.1 Games and their environments implement these and other signifiers, such as the de-contextualised use of colours, to ground the player in what they will understand as the Middle East. Fictional ‘Arab’-coded maps can therefore be understood as dangerous compilations of signifiers that create real imaginaries of the Middle East. They inform the player’s expectations of ‘Arab’ spaces, but the player’s expectations are also what mould these spaces to begin with. A cyclical system of orientalism is born.
The lack of specificity of a location represented in games allows many non-western spaces to be swept into the same category of assumptions. Virtual spaces reference one another, creating a simulacrum and a deadly fiction that, through repetitive exposure, ingrains the idea that war-zone and ‘Arab’ spaces are synonymous. There is violence in the repetitive representation of ‘Arab’-coded spaces to be dilapidated, void of humanity, monochromatic, and always the location for tanks to roam. The repercussions of coding a fictional space as ‘Arab’ with de-contextualised signifiers, when its arrangement functions to provide military actions, extends past the virtual world. One example of these compilations manifesting in reality is the mock-up town, Chicago, built by and for the Israeli military to train in which ‘reflects Israeli Orientalist fantasy’.
A key tool games utilise to signify one is within an ‘Arab’ space is the colour palette. These are beiges, oranges, yellows – all against a backdrop of either blue or grey, often desaturated. The occasional palm tree adds a splash of muted green, alongside the bright red blood splatters from gameplay. The designed desolate appearance of these spaces is read in combination with the muted colour palette to be viewed as lifeless. The colours harmonise with the military outfits of the players whilst remaining an undistracting backdrop for the gameplay.
My project draws attention to the surface-level visuals used to code a virtual space as ‘Arab’. Taking influence from Francis Alys’ film ‘Color Matching’, I re-enact it digitally, touching on the layers of self-reference within military gaming environments. The title refers also to Haroun Farocki’s ‘War at a Distance’, drawing on the violence in acting within these spaces virtually, at a distance. The strategy for compiling is therefore to extract colour palettes from ‘Arab’-coded game environments and publicly available 3D models to expose the stripping-down of nuance and the homogenisation of fictional ‘Arab’ spaces in gaming. The video I colour-pick from shows a player acting in ‘Call of Duty’ within a map that recreates the Dust map from ‘Counterstrike: Global Offensive’, which was a recreation of another game’s map. The use of colour-picking digitally is more extractive than the colour-matching in Alys’ film. The taking of a colour from the screen of game-play, potentially as reference for a new fictional ‘Arab’ space, speaks to the extractive nature of picking a few de-contextualised signifiers at a distance to compile within fictional maps and represent ‘Arab’ spaces in games.
Lahoud, Adrian, ‘Fallen Cities: Architecture and Reconstruction’ in The Arab City Architecture and Representation, eds. Andraos, Amale and Akawi, Nora (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 102-116 ↩