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Violent ads promoting Israel's Gaza offensive are creeping into games

Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has spent $1.5 million on online advertising to promote its response to Hamas' October 7 attack.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

October 30, 2023

3 Min Read
A hand with fingernail polish on it taps on an iPhone.
Photo by Rob Hampson via Unsplash

An Israeli advertising campaign aimed at garnering support for its military offense in Gaza has crept into the world of video games—and it's apparently placing violent imagery in front of children playing them.

Word of this initiative comes via Reuters, which confirmed at least five instances of children encountering what it described as a "pro-Israel" video ad while playing mobile games. The video in question included footage of rocket attacks, masked Hamas militants, terrified Israeli families, and blurred-out footage of graphic violence. It concluded with an all-caps message stating "we will make sure that those who harm us pay a heavy price."

Israel's advertising campaign shines a spotlight on both how messaging about the conflict is spreading through video games and the ability of graphic videos to be surfaced for players under the age of 18. Though not all titles the ad appeared in are explicitly targeted at children, it's not surprising that they were playing some of the games where the ad appeared.

Parents speaking to the news outlet said that their children were frightened by the advertisements, and that some of them deleted the games off their phones.

Reuters confirmed that the ads appeared inside of games like Rovio's Angry Birds, LazyDog's Alice's Mergeland, Sybo Games' Subway Surfers, and other widely-downloaded titles. The outlet was not able to confirm which advertising services displayed the ads. A Rovio spokesperson confirmed that the advertisements did appear in Angry Birds and are now being blocked manually.

David Saranga, the head of digital for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed to Reuters that the video was authentic but said he had "no idea" how it appeared in video game advertising. He indicated the agency had told advertisers to "block" the ad for people under the age of 18.

Israel has apparently spent $1.5 million on internet advertising to promote the video in question, with the stated intent of making sure the world "[understands] what happened here in Israel," according to Saranga.

Saranga was referring to the October 7 attack in southern Israel orchestrated by Islamist movement Hamas, where militants breached the security perimeter around the occupied area of Gaza and assaulted Israeli military bases and towns. Over 1,400 people were killed in the attacks, and militants returned to Gaza with over 200 hostages.

In response, Israel has unlaunched a counteroffensive on Gaza and stepped up military action in the West Bank and with Hezbollah militants on its northern border neighboring Lebanon. Palestinian authorities have reported that at least 8,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israeli began its military action.

It does not appear that either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas are investing money on a similar advertising campaign. Reuters was only able to identify a few Arabic-language videos being promoted by Palestine TV, a West Bank-based news agency affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.

Israel's assault on Gaza has sparked calls for humanitarian relief from game developers

Since Israel began its military response to Hamas October 7 attack, game developers of different backgrounds have begun raising funds in support of humanitarian relief for civilians impacted by the escalating conflict.

Indie job board Work With Indies was the first to make such a move, stating it would donate 100 percent of its October revenue to Medical Aid for PalestiniansPalestine Children's Relief Fund, and the World Food Program. Among Us developer Innersloth and game publisher Devolver Digital made similar efforts later in the month. Indie developers releasing their games on Itch.io also banded together to create a similarly-designed Games for Gaza bundle.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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