Destructive Creations, developer of mass murder simulator and controversy generator Hatred, are back at it again. This time, the Polish studio is releasing IS Defense, a game where players protect European shores from an invading Islamic State army.
In the game's speculative fiction, ISIS continues to spread across the Middle East and North Africa until it has an army big enough to launch an invasion of Europe. Apparently, NATO's defensive strategy to this invasion is to place a single machine gun nest at each of the beach landing locations.
I, as the spartan-like warrior manning the machine gun, must defend the Western world from the savage hordes by pointing and clicking. Boats land on the beach, ISIS fighters with machine guns and explosive vests rush my position, and I shoot them all down before they get too close. IS Defense has a simple upgrade system I could use to boost my firepower, health, or call in airstrikes, but it's a simple game to the point of idiocy. It's like Sabotage, the old Apple II game where players shot down paratroopers, or Beach Head for the Commodore 64, only IS Defense is rendered with the shiny Unreal game engine and dressed in controversy.
That a trivial, mindless video game uses a real and active terrorist group as cannon fodder is strange in its own right. Usually, video games use fictional analogs to avoid offending people who were hurt by the real thing, and when a video game does call out a terrorist organization by name, it's a big deal. Consider the case of 2010's Medal of Honor, which included the Taliban, and was banned from sale on military bases for that reason.
In addition, IS Defense makes me even more uncomfortable given what we know about its developer.
It's not only that Destructive Creations is trying to establish itself as the shock jock of the games industry. The developer has previously been linked to groups known for the kind of xenophobia that are on display in IS Defense.
Shortly after Hatred was announced, Polygon noticed that Destructive Creations CEO Jarosław Zieliński liked the Facebook page of an organization called Polska Liga Obrony, or "Polish Defence League." The group has proposed changes to Poland's constitution to protect it from "radical Islam," keeps a close eye on the location of refugee camps, and as you can see in the video below, takes its members to the shooting range to practice their aim.
"I was accused, because I 'liked' the 'Polish Defence League' fanpage on Facebook, which is clearly anti-Islamic, not nationalist," Zielinski told me in an email. "These are two different things. Some of us have pretty right-wing political opinions, but it's all based on logical thinking, not on hate-fueled fanaticism. Including me. And I still don't get what in actual fuck is wrong about nationalism? People confuse and mix that term, making it equal to Nazisim, fascism, and chauvinism. There's nothing wrong about being patriotic and dedicated to take care of your people and culture."
IS Defense isn't saying it in black and white, but what it's not very subtly saying in between the lines is that foreigners of this particular variety are bad and should be treated with extreme prejudice. IS Defense, like Donald Trump in the United States and nationalist parties across Europe, is blaming refugees for the crimes committed by the people they're trying to escape.
The fear of boatloads of armed ISIS fighters landing on European shores is ludicrous on its face, but the imagery is familiar. There are boatloads of people landing on the shores of Sicily, Spain, and Croatia—the three levels in IS Defense—but they're unarmed refugees. IS Defense just reimagines them as the xenophobe sees them.
Zieliński didn't shy away from this analysis.
"ISIS [said a] few years ago they will smuggle their members among so called 'refugees' and they actually do, we all know that, I suppose? That's the first thing," Zieliński said. "Second is that sorry, but I don't believe in the positive intentions of most of these 'refugees.' Most of them are coming to Europe to live as lazy-ass social funding suckers. Not for honest work, not to bring anything positive here. Of course, there are some good people among them, who are simply seeking a better life and I don't have anything against them. But it's a small minority among these masses. Third thing is that these Muslim immigrants are not adapting to European culture and customs and they don't intend to and don't even try to convince me it is different. I believe most of Europeans know that nothing good is coming from taking a shitload of these immigrants. So there's nothing to demonize, they've demonized themselves.
"Also, there's nothing about Muslims in general to demonize, just read their holy book and some things are going to be obvious. And don't believe in 'it's a matter of interpretation' attitude, as it's complete bullshit."
So there you have it. It's hard to see IS Defense as anything but an incredibly Islamophobic game given that explanation, and on Tuesday, April 19, every PC player in the world will be able to buy it from Steam. Valve maintains that Steam is an open platform, and didn't stop Hatred from being distributed there either.
Rami Ismail, who makes up half of the Dutch indie games studio Vlambeer (Nuclear Throne, Ridiculous Fishing) and who gave a talk about the representation of Muslims in video games in the last Game Developers Conference, didn't seem as worried about IS Defense.
"While the game does play into fears and stereotypes that currently exist and that do affect real people through Islamophobia, the enemy being so overwhelmingly codified as Daesh [ISIS] means that (technically) the game isn't using 'Muslims' in general as their enemies," Ismail told me in an email. "While it's odd to say, for me that already puts it ahead of many contemporary first-person shooters, where the game seems to assume any human alive in the Middle East exists purely to shoot at the 'heroic American,' even when it's an American invasion of a sovereign country."
Indeed, the most embarrassing aspect of IS Defense is that it is only slightly more blatant in its Islamophobia than hugely successful games like Call of Duty. Hatred similarly was only slightly more blatant about mindless, indiscriminate murder than most games, and I suspect that is part of the reason why writers who cover video games were so quick to denounce it. Destructive Creations is embarrassing to video games because they highlight what many of them are already doing.
"In many ways, I don't think this is a 'controversial' or 'brave' game to make—it's a safe and existing genre, and it's about the most accepted political perspective you could adopt for a game," Ismail said. "It's a typically Western game, seemingly played from a Western perspective, based on Western games history, built on the Western creators' fears.
"If anything catches my attention in IS Defense, I guess it does look rather spectacular."