“Saudi Girls Revolution” Could Be a Game-Changer
“Saudi Girls Revolution” Could Be a Game-Changer for Women In the Middle East
In most areas of the Western world getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage. Teenage boys and girls alike anticipate the day that they are finally old enough to be granted the special freedom and independence that come with driving a car alone. This excitement, however, has yet to be felt by young women in Saudi Arabia, the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula, whose ban on female driving is taking the spotlight more and more as women’s rights issues in the Middle East have gained press attention. Although no written law explicitly forbids women from driving, the Saudi government has refused to grant them licenses since the state was established in 1932. Despite decades of protest, Saudi Arabia’s Islam-based government continues to strictly enforce this ban, often inflicting punishments as strict as lashings and months of detainment on women who attempt to drive unlicensed.
The latest opposition to the Saudi driving ban has come in a rather unusual form—and from an even more unexpected source. “Saudi Girls Revolution,” a free mobile video game that will be released on both Apple and Google platforms at the end of this year, features eight heroines who daringly ride motorcycles with magical features through a post-apocalyptic version of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city. Dressed in abayas, full-length coverings worn by some conservative Muslim women, the game’s strong female characters fight baboon kings, zombie cybersoldiers and other futuristic villains to protect a valuable water source from depletion. The game’s creator, NA3M Games, was founded by Prince Fahad bin Faisal Al Saud-- grand-nephew to Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz-- who grew up playing Western video games and was inspired by many of their powerful heroines.
Although the game was not explicitly designed to be politically unsettling, it will certainly have a disruptive effect on a society in which women can’t even get behind the wheel of a car, let alone a souped-up, magical motorcycle. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Prince Fahad expressed hopes that the game would “inspire women to see themselves in roles that are equal to men,” also stating that he believed telling stories about women driving would make it much more likely to happen in Saudi Arabia. He voiced a strong desire for his royal family members to play the game as well, pointing out that he had even modeled one of the strongest main characters after his grandmother.
“Saudi Girls Revolution” promises to challenge convention in other ways as well. One of the female heroines is gay, and several others advocate for religious secularization of the state, which shows support for two highly unpopular stances in the conservative Saudi political climate. It is obviously unlikely that a simple video game will singlehandedly cause major societal changes, but any exposure to unconventional views outside of the state’s official doctrine, especially coming from a member of the royal family, is a step toward increased independence for Saudi women. With any luck, the digital image of eight abaya-clad young women motoring through the streets of Riyadh will someday become a reality.
Abby is a sophomore at NYU’s Stern School of Business studying finance and accounting with a minor in politics. She is fascinated by everything from rap music to tech startups, with a special interest in world events and how they affect the global economy and political landscape, and is always happiest when she is trying or learning something new. In the spare time that she doesn’t have, Abby enjoys competing in triathlons, making sarcastic jokes and eating entire pizzas all at once. You can usually find her wandering through NYC, trying to make money in the stock market, and attempting to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life.