When I came up with the idea of writing a text adventure based around the Pakistan elections, I had no idea the game would go beyond my small circle of friends, much less get thousands of plays, leading to a mobile app version, and even more plays.
The game was born out of a set of (seemingly unrelated, except in hindsight) occurrences:
1. As a Valentine’s day gift, I wrote my wife a choose your own adventure (short) book based around fictional characters whose stories I have been narrating to her as a mean to put her to sleep.
2. I got a sudden urge to download and read hundreds of comics over the last few months – I wanted to write one. I wanted to write, just not another novella. I wanted another dimension to the writing. I also wanted to do a ‘first’ for Pakistan, as that has always been my obsession – do something no one else has done, at least in my country, for my country.
3. On a total whim, I downloaded Wizard’s Choice to play on my iPad (it was popular, and had the word Wizard in it). I was hooked. I had forgotten how truly amazing text adventures were. I also realized, the success of Wizard’s Choice meant that text adventures are poised to make a comeback due to the very nature of mobile phones, touchscreens etc.
4. I downloaded and played Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead (all chapters). This too was in large parts a visually realized text adventure game to my mind. It all clicked, and then I found Quest – the text adventure creator that enabled me to just go ahead and create what was bubbling inside me.
Six feverish days of writing later, my adventure game was born!
Below are all the reviews I have received for the game (will be updated any time more come in).
GO RICH BOY GO!
Review by karachikhatmal – 22 Apr 2013
Slackerstan Votes, April 21, 2013 by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)
A shortish CYOA piece that combines the Teenage Dirtbag tone (familiar from a million My Crappy Apartment games) with the game-as-zine approach of recent Twine offerings. The difference from normal My Apartment is that instead of being a cynical asshole middle-class American kid, you’re a cynical asshole Pakistani kid from a class that’s privileged enough to share a lot of middle-class Western tastes.
Review by Candacis 21 Apr 2013
Review by Sana 22 Apr 2013
It was a really well written, creative and hilarious game! Loved it!!! I took the doped up security guard with me to vote on my first round. Can’t wait to go back and explore other options – I have a feeling they may not turn out quite as well as this one did…
Very insightful and evocative regarding both day to day Karachi life and the PK election process. But you don’t even notice you are learning, given that it is so much fun… Nice use of pics to complement the text as I thought they added a lot to the atmosphere, sometimes chillingly so. Overall, I really, really enjoyed this. 🙂
Review by hala 22 Apr 2013
This was funny, smart and insightful. I played it about 5 times so far and plan to play even more because each choice gives you a new perspective. To be relevent and have poignant commentary on a situation while also being clever and entertaining is a rare trick and this text adventure embodies all of that.
Review by icemelt7 22 Apr 2013
It was my first experience with a local adventure game, it was really amazing. The developer clearly knows all the branches of our multi-layered, complex and contrasting society.
Review by fariasyedhaque 22 Apr 2013
After hours, I have played every single possible choice in this game and they are all hilarious and smart. I love the idea of a text-adventure about elections is especially interesting because it is, after all, a matter of making choices and living with the consequences.
Review by Freehashaukat 22 Apr 2013
Incisive Satire with an urban understanding of Pakistani Rich Elite Youth Ennui as well as the down low on what the parties represent to this motley crew. Encouraging People to Vote – What’s not to Like ? !
Review by sidpatel91 23 Apr 2013
Review by mishalik 23 Apr 2013
Review by kaju – 02 May 2013
REVIEWS FOR THE ANDROID APP VERSION
Abdullah Tariq – May 1, 2013 – Version 1.0
The game’s pretty interesting. Reminds me of the old games like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacles etc. Hope to see more from you, Text Adventures! Noman Bashir – May 1, 2013 – Samsung Galaxy S2 with version 1.0
Awesome experience as a I voted for IK nd got my Secret Crush….two at a time..I was on fire..! Abdurehman Zia – May 1, 2013
Nice little game. I was waiting for it to release. Played it earlier though, this time I’m gonna take my bachi 😉 Faria Syed – May 1, 2013 – Samsung Galaxy S2
Awesome! Best. Bester. Bestest
Love this easy to play adventure game. Navigation and story are smooth. Super fun and can be played multiple times! I’ve played all characters at least once and can’t wait to see what happens when I make a different choice. Now go play the game!
I am sitting at the news desk silently taking in all the news reports of protests across Pakistan over the mob burning of more than 150 houses of Christians in Joseph Colony over alleged blasphemy.
“Protesters on Ferozepur road Lahore have smashed a Metrobus office…a large contingent of police charge protesters using tear gas. Suspects being picked up.”
“Protesters in Saddar Karachi have clashed with police…security officials resorting to aerial firing and tear gas shelling. Laathi charge underway. Over 20 arrested so far.”
To see such police efficiency when faced by an enraged crowd is…ironic isn’t it?
Where was this efficiency when the mob attacked the Christian colony on Saturday?
Curse the media all you want, but the hours-long footage and photographs of the Joseph Town attack are an iron-clad record of the inaction of those who are meant to protect us, and the impunity with which men (I saw no women) terrorised a neighbourhood in broad daylight without even bothering to hide their faces.
Keep in mind, the powers that be were well aware that trouble was brewing because a 3,000 strong mob had already visited Joseph Colony on Friday – the day before the massive destruction of property.
That episode began at 1pm and concluded in the evening, at which point, as reported, the police finally reached the spot. This is after the father of the man accused of blasphemy was badly beaten, his house was burnt down and the vehicle of a pastor was damaged.
What did the police do at this stage?
Did they arrest those involved in beating up an innocent old man?
Did they tear gas the mob who burnt property down?
Did they arrest those who burnt the pastor’s car?
Did they arrest the local cleric who said that if the mob finds the accused, they must cut him into pieces?
No. You know what they did?
The police placated the mob by registering an FIR under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (death sentence) against the accused.
The Christian families in the area were also reportedly shifted out of their homes by the police that same night for ‘safety’.
I think the facts speak for themselves here. I really do not think there is any need to point fingers and ascribe blame for why this incident happened, how it could have been prevented – and wasn’t. All of that was reported and aired two days straight. The guilty – in uniform or otherwise – are in plain sight, some of them waving and smiling.
I guess the only thing I can ask now is: will the honourable Chief Justice take suo motu notice?
Update: he did.
Even those outside of the ‘liberal-fascist’ viewpoint are now beginning to understand that themonths-long ban on YouTube is suspect, and few believe this issue is about blasphemous content anymore. The question is, who benefits from the YouTube ban in Pakistan?
Actually, there is quite a long list of those benefitting from the ongoing blockage of YouTube, including some very powerful players.
First of all, we have the establishment, who are reaping multiple benefits from the ban. The blockage of the video hosting site ensures that we no longer have terrorist outfits and banned organisations, ranging from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to Baloch nationalists, uploading daily or weekly video updates from within the country of alleged battle conquests, soldier beheadings, or worse, videos of men dressed in Pakistan Army uniform torturing people. On the one hand, the spread of the militant/extremist/separatist narrative has been blocked, while on the other, the negative PR against the establishment has been stemmed as well.
Secondly, we have the political parties breathing a collective sigh of relief with YouTube banned. Time and again, YouTube has proven to be a deadly thorn in the side of the political elite, increasingly so, over 2012, as more and more people started to understand that the online channel gave individuals the power (for good or ill) to attack, mock, even expose the wrongdoing of those in power. The little guy (along with the conniving guy) realised there was little chance of being caught uploading videos to YouTube, and a high probability of the content snowballing via social media all the way into traditional media.
Whether it was private phone conversations between politicians and their secret lovers, or yelling “Shut up” or cursing at a gathered crowd, or even your face crudely plastered on the body of a dog, the threat of YouTube fuelled by mobile phone access across Pakistan has left politicians paranoid and genuinely fearful of (ironically) the democratising effect of these technologies. Additionally, let’s not forget that some political parties are now directly threatened by the more web-savvy parties who have learned how to use YouTube to their advantage.
Thirdly, we have the media elite who are sitting pretty with the YouTube ban in place. Traditional media has built a rocky relationship with YouTube. On the one hand, YouTube is a gold mine of crowd-generated content and also provides a place for the media to take its own content’s reach further than ever before, and allow for unlikely social change (thinkRangers Karachi killing video). On the other hand, whether it is in the form of the Maya Khan debacle, the Aamir Liaqat Geo scandal or the daily pummeling mainstream anchors and media owners take via YouTube videos bashing or exposing them, those that have the real power in the media are not happy, till now.
The pattern emerging is clear. The YouTube ban is a classic attempt, albeit in a new arena, by those in power to maintain the status quo by blocking access to information. The public has allowed them to do this because the ban was initially framed in the name of religion. While the world moves ahead to more nuanced political and social systems, it seems Pakistan is still living in a Karl Marx textbook.
Unfortunately for the powers that be, this system — as exemplified by this ludicrous ban on YouTube — will not hold. The way forward is democracy, which signals the end of such autocratic shenanigans. The Internet in particular is a largely democratic, if somewhat anarchic system, and all overt blocks and bans will prove futile. If YouTube is banned, people will find a way around it or find new online spaces to operate in. Ban Facebook? Ban Twitter? Ban all sites disseminating information contrary to the agreed upon narrative? Best be prepared for a backlash, because ‘democracy is the best revenge’.
There is no better indicator to how little Pakistan has done to prevent the nation slipping down the extremism rabbit hole than the increasingly visible outcry against Valentine’s day.
Back in the 90s, nobody was concerned with the celebration of Valentine’s day. The general population was unaware of the event, and the few who knew went their merry way with chocolates, cut-out hearts, red balloons and the hope of securing a date or making a loved one feel special.
The 2000s have, however seen each Valentine’s day turn increasingly into an ideological battleground between the forces of extremism out to score political mileage, and well, teenagers with red balloons. One would hope the government would notice this trend and intervene before the ideological fight turns to actual violence, but perhaps such foresight would be expecting too much.
So here we are in 2013 with these big billboards up across Karachi:
And on vans:
Say NO to Valentine’s Day!
“If you do not have haya in you, you are free to do whatever you like”
This tradition reflects our insensitivity indignity and ignorance of Islam.
Who is this group willing to spend tens of thousands of rupees per billboard?
They are the Tanzeem-e-Islami – a splinter group of the Jamaat-e-Islami who state on their website that their basic belief are “the same as that of Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamaat” and:
“Since Tanzeem-e-Islami addresses specifically to the duty of struggling for the establishment of the Deen, it believes that the Western constitutional and democratic model is not suitable for this purpose.”
At this point, any readers who feel democracy is ‘cr*p’ may exit stage left.
For everyone else, we need to realise that Valentine’s day is no longer a pop-culture/globalisation phenomenon – it is now a political statement.
I personally do not like Valentine’s day. I think it is gaudy, commercial and just plain silly at times. But I am willing to fight for the right our nation’s hormonal teenagers and sappy romantics have to celebrate it. You should do the same, because an ideological war is being fought here, and while you may personally detest Valentine’s day, please realise that the endgame of extremist outfits like the Tanzeem-e-Islami is not to bring an end to Valentine’s day, but to democracy and any/all of the (few) freedoms you currently take for granted.
Take a look at the ‘methodology‘ section of the Tanzeem-e-Islami website if you are having trouble visualising the ‘change’ this organisation wishes to bring.
So have a heart (literally). Celebrate Valentine’s day in some small visual manner this year to establish where you stand politically. If you don’t do this for yourself, do it for the minority out there who consider this day important.
At the very least, when you are bashing Valentine’s day, just be extra careful with the words you use so as to not end up being a part of a very real movement aimed at taking Pakistan down a truly dark path.
PS: I do not think the solution to this problem is the removal of such billboards, as that would be limiting free speech. I do believe the answer to this is a communicated response, and a level playing field whereby violence and threats in the name of religion are not used by those with another world view to enforce what they want.
This short story is inspired by the Bloomberg article: Pakistan Loving Fatburger as Fast Food Boom Ignores Drones.
“Jahangir! Fatburger has come to town – it’s time baita, its time…”
The mobile phone slipped from his hands.
Eight years had passed since Jahangir had visited a newly opened foreign fast food chain in the upscale urban badlands of Karachi.
Since then, much had changed in the dark metropolis, but as he lay shaking on his bed, Jahangir could still smell French fries gone soggy…with blood.
He could still see in his mind’s eye, a jostling dark mass of screaming, orc-like beings with beards as long as their blades, smashing up what once used to be a KFC outlet.
A KFC outlet he had once worked at…
“Fatburger has come to town…” he murmured to the thick, empty terror-laden air, as he ran his psychiatrist’s call through his head again and again.
“it’s time baita, its time…it’s time baita, its time…”
Could he? Would he? Was eight years enough time to heal the wounds that Jahangir could still feel all over his body and mind? The scar on his left leg was a constant reminder of what a crazed Islamist militant with a chicken bone could do to an unsuspecting fast food employee in the middle of a riot.
The scars in his mind, however, were much worse. He still remembered the screams of his colleagues, as they were burnt alive by the mob. He still remembered hiding without moving for hours on end, waiting for the terrifying scrapping sounds in the refrigeration unit to die down, only to find out…his remaining companions were hiding, and slowly freezing to death inside.
Eight years had passed since that day. Eight years had passed since Jahangir had set foot inside a foreign fast food chain in Pakistan. Could Fatburger change all that?
Trembling hands snapped open the nearby laptop. Jahangir typed “Fatburger Karachi launch” in his Google search and opened the top link:
“Drones” he whispered softly, his eyes lighting up.
Having lived through the trauma of working in Pakistan’s fast food industry, Jahangir let out a low moan; a guttural, throaty expression of pure understanding and empathy. The article was excellent. In its nuanced, subtle and loving attention to terrorism, drone attacks and Pak-US ties in the midst of Fastburger’s launch THIS, Jahangir realized, was his own story; the narrative of serving food in a country torn apart by war and violence.
Tears streamed down Jahangir’s face as he read the following lines:
Pakistanis increasingly flock to American food outlets even as ties between the two nations are strained by U.S. drone missile strikes in the northwest of the country.
“They do…” he sobbed, remembering his love of handing over extra packets of ketchup to loving, outstretched arms – the very arms that later grabbed him and stabbed him with a chicken bone.
He kept reading, eyes growing ever wider:
“In food, people don’t look at relations between countries. They just want to eat.”
“LIES! LIEEEESSSSSS” he shrieked, only calming once he read:
Taliban insurgencies along the border with Afghanistan, nationwide bombings and political unrest have plagued Pakistan’s economy, limiting growth to an average of three percent a year.
And then there, right in the middle of the story of Fatburger’s launch was Jahangir’s moment of catharsis:
KFC stores in Karachi have been attacked five times in the 15 years the franchise has operated in Pakistan. In September, when Pakistanis protesting an anti-Islam film made in the U.S. poured onto the streets, mobs attacked banks, movie theatres and damaged a KFC store in Karachi.
Six hours later
Jahangir stands in front of Fatburger.
Clenched in his hands is a crumpled, tear-stained print out of the article: Pakistan Loving Fatburger as Fast Food Boom Ignores Drones.
After eight years, one chicken bone injury, the loss of his job, much of his sanity and love for fast food made by foreign companies – Jahangir steps into Fatburger and orders himself the biggest meal on the menu.
He eats in silence, alone.
He eats with memories of terror, loss and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Every time he feels the memories overwhelm him, he touches the paper upon which is printed the words that brought him solace; the article that tells him he is not alone in this mad world; a report that truly captures how dangerous the fast food business really is in Pakistan.
He thanks the reporter and the editor between mouthfuls of burger and fries:
“Thank you. Thank you for saving my life. All I wanted was for someone to understand how I feel. And now, someone finally does.”
For those who do not know (and that number is growing) November 20 is the death anniversary of one of Urdu’s great intellectuals and poets, Faiz Ahmad Faiz.
Sadly, the man and his body of work have become increasingly irrelevant for many Pakistanis, including myself.
Conversation in the newsroom
Me (upon spotting the story on a local news site): “Guys, today is the death anniversary of Faiz – are we covering it?”
(Clueless) subeditor: “Isn’t Faiz a hat?”
Yes, Fez is a hat. And yes, Faiz has been reduced to token mentions in the print media or online (“Today is Faiz’ birth or death anniversary – please read this copy-paste history on him from Wikipedia”), even fewer mentions on TV, and the odd Facebook share with some out-of-context stand-alone prose, generally being used to further the agenda of the sharer.
This is truly a sad state of affairs, and what’s worse is that I am part of the problem.
I am completely ill-informed thanks to my education at Karachi Grammar School which never touched upon Faiz (though I assume he could/should be relevant to an O Level audience).
My ‘western style’ upbringing means no encounters with Faiz at home. Even though my mother is well-versed and well-read when it comes to Faiz and Urdu literature, she never bothered to share any of that with me, reasons unknown. We have volumes of Faiz, but they sit on dusty shelves doing nothing for no one. I once tried to find good, free translations online, but the search left me weary. I found more hats than prose.
At my university abroad, Faiz had no place. At my jobs at Geo, Dawn and now at Express, his relevance has been next to none, or muted (see above description of putting together news on Faiz’ anniversaries).
I have no idea where Faiz is, and neither do the people I live and hang out with. I know this is a monumental loss because people tell me it is, but when I ask them about Faiz, they tend to know more about the hat than the man and his work.
Unfortunately, this loss of Faiz is not just among the burger bachas I know – it extends from my uneducated driver all the way up to senior staff at news organisations.
The loss of Faiz is real, what it will mean for us…I really do not know.
In order for terrorists to flourish, they need more than guns, funding and a geographical location to operate in – they also need an ideological space to occupy and work inside.
That is how they persist; that is how they can win.
This fact is one which the majority of Pakistanis have yet to come to terms with: the fact that we ourselves are often individually culpable and involved in the war being waged against the terrorists in our country. Tragically, we are often knowingly or unknowingly on the wrong side of the ideological front.
Nowhere has this been better illustrated than in the current tragedy that is the attack on14-year-old Malala Yousufzai.
Within hours of the attack, a select group of Pakistanis started creating the ideological space that allows terrorists the upper hand. It would be hard to imagine how a counter narrative could be built around the gunning down of a child, but there it was, coming from our politically charged youth, our parties, our ultra-nationalists and religio-political parties, our extremist/banned organisations and yes, our relatives, peers and friends.
I received this SMS message early yesterday morning from a co-worker:
Zara Sochae! [think!]
MALALA Ko Karachi My Target Kiya Jata; [If Malala was targeted in Karachi]
Ya Hazaron Ki Tarah Isay Bhi Drone Nishana Banata Tou: [or killed like thousands in drone attacks]
1-Na To Wo Qoum Ki Byti Kehlati [nor would she be called nation’s daughter]
2-Na Hi yeh Matam [nor this mourning]
3-Na Obama Air Ambulance Offer Karta [nor an Air Ambulance from Obama]
4-Na UNO Ko ko Takleef Hoti. [Nor UNO being hurt]
5-Na tamam Madaris/ulema ka 90 pur data collect hota [Nor the collection of data of madrassas and ulema at Nine Zero]
Aaj Bhi North Wazirastan My Drone Attack My 16 Afrad Shaheed Ho Chuky Hain: [Today also 16 people have died in drone attacks]
1-Na To Qoam Ny DUA Ki? [Did the nation pray?]
2-Na Kiyani Giya Na Kisi kou koi ghum? [Neither did Kayani go, nor did anyone express sorrow?]
3-Na Kisi Ko CMH Muntaqil kiya Geya? [Nor was anyone admitted to CMH?]
4-Qoam Ki Aik Aur Byti AAFIA K Liye Kisi Ny Aaj Tak Yom-e-Duaa Kiyon Nahi Manai? [Why has there never been a day of prayer for Dr Aafia Siddiqui?]
5-Aur Kiyon Na AAFIA K Liye “Azad Media” Ny Aasman Sar Par Uthaya [Why no hue and cry for Aafia in our idependent media?]
6-Aur Laal Masjid ki betiyan? [What about the Laal Masjid daughters?]
Anjuman-e-Ghulamane America Ke Khilaf Awaz Utah Kur Jiyo [Speak out against the US]
You can only imagine how far this SMS campaign has reached if a ‘liberal extremist’ such as myself has managed to get it sent over to him.
You can only begin to imagine what this campaign looks like on Facebook (I’m sharing a few less extreme images below):
This picture reads: Pakistan’s two persecuted daughters — Malala and Aafia
Is the nation’s approach equal in both matters?
Is the media’s approach equal in both matters?
Is the world’s approach equal in both matters?
Is America approach equal in both matters?
This picture reads: Dr Aafia’s ideal and Malala’s idea – Obama
Which one would you pick? Aafia’s or Malala’s? Think and answer, it’s a matter of faith
Examine the content above and you will see the attack on Malala being obfuscated among drone attacks, target killings in Karachi, Aafia Siddiqui and Laal masjid, not to mention the suggestion of a grand conspiracy involving the US and our local media.
“But surely forwarding this message does not make me the Taliban? How absurd! There is some truth in all that after all!”
That is the tragedy of our nation. An attempt to murder children must also have a conspiracy and double meaning to it. The shooting of a child must serve an agenda (read: my agenda). No matter if this erodes the little resolve the nation may have to come to an agreement on an act of terrorism. No matter if this results in conversations, debates, perhaps policies and action that eventually shapes Pakistan further into the TTP’s Pakistan.
Kill media people
Later that day the web desk ran a report on the Taliban planning attacks on media houses for their coverage of the Malala attack.
I felt fear. But the fear was less from the possibility of being a potential target (a grim reality), and more from the reactions of the online audience when we shared the story to Facebook:
Innocent Kumar Ab Pata Chalega Tum Logon Ko Media WalonJalal Khan Hoti taleban zinda badFaiZal Ashfaq Should target GEO firstSalman Shafi Should target geo and express tv first.Ata Ur Rehman Pehli baar Aqalmandi ka kaam karengeShahzeb Hassan Has somebody told them ET’s address already?[and dozens more…]
“I hope a suicide bomber blows up all these politicians someday”
Or this version shared by Pak Nationalist Ahmad Quraishi and his fan base today:
Under NO circumstances, the Muslims of Pakistan will wage a war against Afghan Taliban, Haqqani or Gulbadin hekmatyar. But by Allah, we will wage a war against those terrorists and murderers who are created, backed and protected by JSOC, CIA and RAW. That CIA should understand this clearly.
The truth is, you don’t have any sympathy for Malala, but only hate Taliban because of the vengeance the media has instilled in you.
This is another trick to defame Taliban and please America
We request the Pakistani media that it’s been 63 years that we have been independent, but sadly you haven’t been freed from the slavery of Western media and America
Share this as much as you can, because media will not do so.
America, the Pakistani government and the Pakistani media have together planned this conspiracy. And as far as I know, these rented murderers do not leave their victims injured.
Pakistani forces were behind the Lal Masjid operation and openly attacking women in Quetta and the blame was placed on the Taliban.
This is the ideological ground that allows terrorist outfits like the Taliban to operate.
It is an information-fueled rabbit hole, which goes deeper and deeper depending on the depths an individual wishes to go, and unfortunately, whether it is a preppy teenage PTI supporter up at the top, or all the way down to a hardened ultra-nationalist being paid to pour out propaganda online, the result is all the same:
Create space for terrorism and extremism to flourish.
To quote Karl Marx’s oft cited view on ideology (as a negative force):
“They don’t know it, but they are doing it.”
Some of the Facebook pages accessed for this blog post include: