By Mohamed AlJunaibi (@maljunaibi)
Back in 2001, I was attending college in Abu Dhabi, to later become your average “IT guy”. And I will have to admit, it was a great time for me. I loved studying back then, because of mainly 2 things; I got to own my own laptop, and was doing something I had always loved doing, and that was to program software.
While in college, a network game came out that was to revolutionize the computer gaming community in the UAE. It was called ‘Counter Strike’. The game was a simple shooting game where groups of people get together to form 2 teams, and literally kill each other, or win objectives like hiding bombs, saving hostages and so on.
I had been playing some Role-Playing (RPG) games in the days of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), my real network gaming experience started with a game called: ‘Quake’ and it pretty much introduced me to what was soon to be the future of online-gaming.
During the span of one year, “network gaming” cafes started to spring out in various parts of town. These cafes literally only had one or two games, but everyone came to play that ‘Counter Strike’.
Here are some rough numbers: A cafe would normally charge on average between 5 to 8 AED an hour. Multiplied with approximately 30-40 machines (depending on location), and you can be making an easy 200 to 300 hundred dirhams within an hour (on fully booked days). One day’s earnings can be around 2400 AED (assuming the lowest charge of 5 AED per hour).
That would get you 72,000 AED a month. Not a bad deal for a business. According to some statistics, by year 2006 there were approximately 600 registered internet cafes in the UAE. *
People started to form groups, tournaments started, and people started to realize the potential of the game, and its appeal to youth. The smarter cafes started to allow players to order cafeteria food, and served soda to the players who would on average play for 2-3 hours a day. The more hardcore players would spend 5-8 hours playing the games on hand. Cafés would also have a membership system, where subscribers would put cash credit to their accounts, and the more you put in, the more free hours are given.
My addiction, I have to admit, was a strategy game called: Command and Conquer (Generals). One of my more business-minded friends later decided to make his own place, a café called “Sniper Café”. It was a café paying homage to the game that connected all of our friends together, Counter Strike. While this was innocent fun in the beginning, the years went by when I started to realize that for some people, it was a form of escapism from day to day realities.
In the span of 5 years, two of our friends were diagnosed with diabetes. Another friend of mine later divorced and lost a custody battle for his child, due to the negligent nature of his role as a parent. Sniper Café later closed, as the console markets started to get really interesting with the introduction of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Players were beginning to play at home, and places like Sniper Café were becoming ghosts of a network gaming boom that did not last long.
Recently during this year, I was invited by close friends to join them at one of the big and last remaining internet cafes in Abu Dhabi. I knew that they still had games like Counter Strike and Generals. But I was surprised to find youth, not only playing online and network games, but to also see social media sites, movies, TV Series and other forms of entertainment in store for them. Some of the customers would stay all night playing games, surfing social media sites, and keeping in touch via communication tools like Skype. This was a major change from the more innocent days of Sniper Café!
People not only have the burden of battling the possible high risk of addiction to the games they play, but also maintain a social life and chat via Skype, Facebook and other mediums. The unhealthy lifestyle and dark ambience within these cafes are quite reminiscent of a typical cyber punk novel. You have people sitting down with their headsets, and with an eerie silence surrounding them. They are glued to their screens, multi-tasking away, and giving the occasional sign of life (a giggle or a laugh).
I sometimes wonder why the numbers of diabetes cases are going up, the social issues within society, and the continued degradation of many youth in fully understanding the cultural and moral obligations they would normally be raised with. Do not get me wrong; I am ok with these cafes, but as long as they are not the only area for me to turn to.
My issue is how many of these cafes offer distractions more than they do entertainment. Would not it be great if these cafes attracted under aged chain smokers, and offer them self-help videos?
Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of having the full seasons’ of Jersey Shore (and they do!), they would have few seasons of American Inventor, or even, dare I say, The Apprentice?
When thinking about this, I am brought back to a line from the Generals game that I still play with good friends and work colleagues. When being attacked by outside forces, your advisor would shout at you: “General! Our land is being attacked!” If only I could replace the word “Land” with “Youth”.
Mohamed enjoys reading literature and political commentary, with a love for Sci-Fi reading and writing. He’s also a big Formula 1 fan, and also heads the Mercedes GP UAE Fan Club based in Abu Dhabi.
Latest posts by Mohamed Al Jneibi (@maljunaibi) (see all)
- The Polarising Effect of the Internet, Cyberspace Discussions - March 1, 2012
- Laws of the Internet: What are SOPA and PIPA? - February 1, 2012
- The UAE: My 7 Wonders Of The World - December 2, 2011