• The Jordan Gaming Lab teaches kids as young as eight to develop games. (Michaela Morgan)Source: Michaela Morgan
Jordan’s gaming labs are breeding a new generation of producers, with a push for more Arabic content in games.
By
Michaela Morgan

Source:
The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour
7 Dec 2016 - 10:46 AM  UPDATED 7 Dec 2016 - 1:00 PM

“I’ve been developing games since I was nine years old,” Nour Khrais tells SBS, as he shows us around the Jordan Gaming Lab in Amman.

The brightly coloured space is filled with PC and Mac computers and hip furniture where young people can come to design and develop their own video games.

Khrais is the chairman of the Jordan Gaming Lab and says that when he first came up with the idea of an incubator for the next generation of game producers, people thought he was crazy.

“It was a big joke at the time,” he says. “Convincing the Jordanian families and fathers who worked hard on their kids and invested in their education, for them to go into video games [was difficult].”

Although it was challenging at first to garner support for the labs, Khrais had one crucial backer.

“It was funny, I sat down with His Majesty [King Abdullah II] in 2011 and he said to me, ‘the future is in mobile games'."

Now, with support from the King Abdullah II Fund for Development, there are four gaming labs in the country: in Amman, Irbid, Aqaba and Ma’an.

Twenty-three-year-old Omayma Alhalawani works at the lab in the seaside city of Aqaba, teaching children as young as eight how to use the software. They can learn storytelling, design, art and coding.

“They get really excited. Here in Aqaba, they know how to play games but not how to design and make their own, so it’s something big for them to have a place like this to learn,” she tells SBS.

“My mum used to play Super Mario Brothers with me when I was younger. It would have been great to have Arabic dialogue boxes available because her Arabic was stronger than her English.”

According to Khrais, Jordanians have a natural aptitude for game producing.

“We conducted a study in 2011 with Sho Sato, a Japanese market analyst, and found that Jordanians are gamers by nature. The games come out from stories and we have a lot of storytellers in Jordan.”

The appetite for games in Jordan is strong too. Seventy per cent of Jordan’s population is under 30, the main demographic for video game players.

 

The need for more Arabic content games

Less than one per cent of online content is in Arabic, despite the fact that 4.5 per cent of the world’s population are native Arabic speakers.

Khrais, who founded the first mobile game company in the Middle East in 2003, Maysalward, says that Jordan is playing a major role in creating more games with Arabic content.

“It was funny, I sat down with His Majesty [King Abdullah II] in 2011 and he said to me, ‘the future is in mobile games'."

Companies such as Tamatem, Play 3arabi and Na3am are just some of the Jordanian start-ups that are producing games to cater for Arab audiences, as well as licensing international games and publishing them in Arabic.

In Australia, the addition of more Arabic content online would also be welcomed by local gamers. 

Lebanese-Australian Elias Aoun grew up speaking Arabic at home. Based in Melbourne, he works in IT at a law firm and is a keen gamer. He enjoys games such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars but says he’s never come across any Arabic games.

“My mum used to play Super Mario Brothers with me when I was younger. It would have been great to have Arabic dialogue boxes available because her Arabic was stronger than her English.”

 

The author travelled to Jordan as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour. Read more stories from this series.

'I must keep the culture alive': Meet the last Red Sea fishermen
They've plied their trade for hundreds of years but today there are less than 60 fishing families, their livelihood under threat from local development.
Can we make new coral reefs out of old oil rigs?
If we leave them in the ocean, who's responsible?
Weakened coral reefs are facing the threat of algae colonisation
Bleached corals - such as those in the Great Barrier Reef - are weaker and more susceptible to a microbial takeover fuelled by algae.
Coral Bleaching Taskforce: more than 1,000 km of the Great Barrier Reef has bleached
Many corals in the reef's remote northern reaches are now expected to die as a result of warm waters linked to this summer's El Nino.
Western Australia’s coral reefs are in trouble: we mustn’t ignore them
Warming waters and other threats are seriously endangering our coral reefs, write CSIRO scientists

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour is a joint UTS and Swinburne University project, supported by the Commonwealth through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.