Islamic Relief has launched a videogame in partnership with Ultimatum Games, with the aim of teaching young people how international aid works and to tackle negative perceptions of Muslims. The game, ‘Virtue Reality’, is based on real international development projects run by Islamic Relief in more than 40 countries across the world, from Pakistan to Mali.
Virtue Reality was launched on Thursday 13th October 2019 at the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield, where local school students were the first to try out the game. It is available to download for free on Apple and Google devices.The launch ties in with Charity Week, a fundraising campaign among Muslim students in the UK.
Virtue Reality comes from a recognition that Muslims are often not presented in a positive light in films, TV programmes or videogames – all too often presented as ‘the bad guys’. It also addresses a gap in the knowledge of the general public with regards to how foreign aid works.
The game is an ‘Idle Clicker’ game. The gamer is invited to build projects such as shelters, boreholes and schools. As they click, the gamer accumulates enough ‘DeedCoins’ – the game’s currency – to build the first phase of a project. These DeedCoins reflect the good deeds that Muslims are expected to carry out as part of their faith.
Throughout the game, the user will receive feedback on how the project is going. From time to time, they will receive ‘donations’ randomly, in the form of DeedCoins from Islamic Relief’s funders, such as the Department for International Development (DFID) or Charity Week. They will also be directed to charity videos, so that gamers can make donations – or to the shop, so that gamers can make in-app purchases. The income from these will support the charitable work of Islamic Relief.
Judith Escribano, Head of Communications at Islamic Relief UK, said:
“We see Virtue Reality as a solution to two challenges presented by society: scepticism of aid and increasing Islamophobia. We are living in a political climate that is hostile to both aid and Muslims.
“There is increased scepticism towards the charity sector, and often people do not understand that the work undertaken by organisations like Islamic Relief involves working with local people in poor countries to help lift themselves out of poverty. This game will teach both children and adults about the process of delivering aid and how the money donated is used. It will also show Muslims doing good deeds.”
Shahid Kamal Ahmad, Managing Director at Ultimatum Games, said:
“Having worked in the video games industry for 37 years, I can’t help but notice that, as with the media and pop culture, Muslims are generally presented in a negative light in videogames.
“Often, when you see characters from the Islamic faith in videogames they are ‘other’ed’ as terrorists or villains you have to kill, usually dark-skinned characters shouting Allahu Akbar and carrying weapons. I haven’t seen people from my community portrayed in any other way in videogames. It is as though there is no other way for a Muslim to be: you never see any peaceful, ordinary Muslims just going about their lives.
“The Qu’ran said that to save a life it is as though you have saved all of mankind, and Muslims take inspiration from this. Muslims give more to charity than any other religious group in the UK. In showing Muslim aid workers supporting some of the world’s poorest people to lift themselves out of poverty, Virtue Reality portrays the generosity and humanity of the Muslim faith; we hope it will inspire other videogames to follow suit.”
Dr Wajid Akhter, the founder of Charity Week, has endorsed the game and will be promoting the game to Islamic Student Societies and Charity Week volunteers in the UK. He said:
“This is a really innovative and interesting game.”
Zia Salik, Head of Fundraising at Islamic Relief UK, said:
“The Fundraising and Charity week teams at Islamic Relief are really excited about the launch of the mobile gaming app. We think it will be a great new way to engage the youth, especially the volunteer teams across the world that take part in Charity Week every year.
“It’s another way to learn how our projects work, and also help raise funds for future projects. This is going to be something that we can build on and we hope that it will be a great asset to the organisation for years to come.”
The videogame has also being launched simultaneously in the US and Canada by Islamic Relief partners. It will be promoted by Islamic Relief offices from Australia to Mauritius and Germany to South Africa.