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Military Shooter Launch Event Turns Into Racist Shit-Show

A video game press junket plays into anti-Arab stereotypes

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Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is set in a fictional world but its launch event was not.
Image: CI Games

An event organized to celebrate the release of military shooter Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 had journalists and influencers take part in a mock training program based around killing “enemies” and “bad guys” who were dressed up to appear Arab, according to a report published last night by The Gamer.

The event took place a day after Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2’s release on June 5 at a facility for training police and military personnel in San Diego, California, owned by a company called Strategic Operations, Inc. According to The Gamer report’s author, Eric Switzer, close to a dozen games media people were taken there from their hotel by bus, where they then proceeded in a series of combat training simulations run by the events group Incredible Adventures.

“As we run drills, no one refers to the people we’re learning to kill as Muslim, Middle Eastern, or Arab,” writes Switzer. “Any time the instructors refer to them, they say enemies, bad guys, or the other guys.”

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He goes on:

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that “the bad guys” are most certainly Arabs here. At the end of the day, we run a combat scenario where we trade fire with role-players dressed in white robes and keffiyehs. The actors are all white, I think, and I can’t decide what’s worse: white people dressing up like Arabs to be shot at, or subjecting actual Arab people to this experience.

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Switzer writes that at the end of the event, “The participants are asked to stand in a row facing the role-players with their fists raised in anger, while the role-players are instructed to put their hands in the air and ululate like a jihadist.”

The training area, which Strategic Operations, Inc. describes as a “replicating a Third World Village,” featured run-down buildings and rotten meat, which Switzer describes as “the Middle-East as we’re often shown it via Western media—a gross, twisted doppelganger that doesn’t actually represent life in that part of the world at all.” It was also in the vicinity of a flag that read “Trump 2024: The Revenge Tour,” flying over one of the lots main buildings. Neither Strategic Operations, Inc. nor Incredible Adventures immediately responded to a request for comment.

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Not everyone was put off by the event, however. “This is absolutely the best experience I’ve ever had at a press event period,” influencer HipHopGamer said in a video recording from the day. “This makes you want to play the game, buy the game, talk about the game, experience the game, and everything else about the game. If any other company out there want to step their game up I’m telling you right now you’ve got to understand what’s being done here. ”

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CI Games, the makers of the Sniper Ghost Warrior series, apologized for the event today on Twitter. “CI Games abhors racism of any kind, and as a Polish Studio based in Warsaw, we have absolutely no affiliation with any US political party or movement,” the studio writes. The statement goes on to say that Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is a “purely fictional narrative, based in a purely fictional setting.”

“We try very hard to ensure we’re avoiding stereotypes or representing cultures in any negative way,” the studio writes. “Respect and tolerance are keystones of our company’s culture and we were distressed to discover that an event meant to be fun and engaging for participants had instead caused offense for some attendees.”

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CI Games did appear to be aware of the general outlines of what was planned for the event. The studio wrote that it had asked the company running the event to change the outfits of enemies to match those that appear in the game and which were designed not to be references to any particular group. “We were informed that in order to preserve the authenticity of their training event, this request was declined,” wrote CI Games. The studio appears to have allowed the event to go on anyway, but there were no developers there due to the ongoing pandemic. CI Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kotaku was also invited to attend the event, but in general rarely participates in press junkets organized and paid for by PR. Evolve PR was the company that first reached out to both Kotaku and The Gamer about participating in the June 5 Sniper Ghost Warrior event, but according to Switzer, it was UberStrategists that coordinated and facilitated the trip.

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“We weren’t involved in the planning of the physical event itself,” a spokesperson for Evolve PR told Kotaku in an email. “We’ve read the story and apologized to Eric as well. Had we known the specifics, we would not have participated in inviting anyone to the event.”

Following the publication of The Gamer’s article, head of UberStrategists Mario Kroll briefly liked a tweet by a self-identified veteran of the Iraq war defending the setup of the event as being “true to life.” A subsequent tweet in the thread went on to call Switzer a “crybaby.” Kroll declined a request for comment and instead directed Kotaku back to CI Games.

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Games, along with popular Western media more generally, have had a long history of anti-Arab and Islamophobia depictions. These issues were recently brought back into the spotlight following the news that documentary action shooter Six Days In Fallujah had been revived. It depicts one of the most gruesome battles of the US invasion of Iraq, but predominantly from the point of view of US service men and women who were laying siege to the city.