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classic of the month: Prince of Persia

Sunday, 1. September, 2019
Writing cultures: Prince of Persia
Presented by Tim Weber

15 years after I played Prince of Persia in the first half of the 1990s in MS-DOS version, my fascination for the platform game took an unexpected turn. During ethnographic studies at university I was confronted with a question that posed a new challenge for my understanding of narratives in literature, film and computer games: What do my statements say about the examined object itself and to which extent do they reflect my own personal being?

Narratives create worlds and this also applies to computer games. Narratives influence our perspective towards objects, humans and certain issues. They bear an extraordinary power insofar, as they keep us from finding and understanding the ”Other“. We reinvent the ”Other” and the foreign in narratives and by this become authors of whole new cultures. Respective to the countries of the Near and Middle East Edward W. Said coined the term ”Orientalism” and indicated a political and socially accepted power relationship which analyses and dominates said cultures.

Our traditional view of the ”Orient” is described as barbaric and exotic, threatening and romantic at the same time. In its backward world the concepts of time and space don’t apply but war and despotism rule. For the West this world of images serves as evidence of the colonialization of the respective countries. Like other numerous movies and books, Prince of Persia is also embedded in these patterns of narration that have been ongoing since the ancient times and makes use of the vast range of image material that comes with the topic. It is the very popular pictoral world of the 90s that circles around the spirit of adventure and the Arabian Nights that has downright electrified me. As a child I was not aware that attributions of Persia (today Iran) like the ”Other”, a counter world to civilization, modern age, democracy and freedom were constructed.

Those patterns of narration that pass on accounts of the Arab Spring, civil wars in Syria or the debates about headscarves and criminality still maintain the picture of a backward and cruel so-called ”Orient”. The purpose has been the same ever since; to constitute dominion and demonstrate cultural superiority. Orientalism, however, goes further than plain ethnocentrism because it is self-reflexive. By analyzing the “Orient” the West learns about itself, whereby it reinterprets it as a landscape for experimenting. This process has playful features in itself.

Meanwhile the ”Orient” that we know from ”One Thousand and One Nights“ doesn’t play a major role in digital games anymore. The stereotypes that have been applied to it, nonetheless, can still be found in games that refer to battlegrounds of the Middle and Near East. The political presence has caught up with the digital world; from an aesthetic as well as a ludic point of view.
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