By some accounts, nearly a third of Lebanon’s population is comprised of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war in the neighboring country. History tells us that in difficult times, people have an even greater calling to escape – movies rose in popularity during our Great Depression and now video games are becoming popular in Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon. “Games are an escape, a way to have fun,” says tech specialist Lara Noujaim. “But for us in Lebanon, games are also used as a distraction from frustration at events in the country.”
Lara Noujaim has quite the resume. Though Lebanon is her home country, she has a MBA from Santa Clara University in Northern California, and worked as a Data Evaluator at Google. Feeling the desire to give back to her home country, she returned to Lebanon in 2013 where the local gaming industry was just heating up.
She soon joined forces with a local Lebanese gaming company called Game Cooks. Founded by two brothers, Lebnan and Arz Nader, Game Cooks is known for their game “Run For Peace” which focuses on themes of peaceful liberation and revolution with clear echoes of the Arab Spring. “The game really grabbed people’s attention because it was about peace in the Middle East, but it was also a quite addictive game,” says Ms. Noujaim. “I was really impressed by what they had accomplished – placing Lebanon on the global mobile gaming map.”
Habib Chams, a key organizer at the MENA Games Conference in Lebanon, says there is currently a lot of opportunity in the local gaming and tech world. “You have a lot of talent across the region,” he says. “Creating and gathering the community is important for us.”
According to the Guardian, a lot of this “opportunity” also exits for women – “thanks to its progressive education system, discrimination and sexism against women in Lebanon is relatively unusual.” Ms. Noujaim adds, “The problem isn’t that you have misogynistic views preventing women from working in the tech field. It’s the fact that a lot of women still don’t know they have the possibility to enter the tech industry; they don’t consider it as an option yet. There are lot of workshops and initiatives coming into place to show to women early on when they’re still at school that this is a field they can make a contribution to, it’s not just for men.”